In the spirit of the recently passed Friday the 13th, we will go over the perhaps most commonly known horror movie trope. In horror movies — where characters are almost disposable — underrepresented groups are often the first to go, as they fulfill their purpose of creating tension throughout the plot. Unfortunately, while these groups are seen on the screen, their lack of characterization results in subpar representation.
From “Jurassic Park” to “Gremlins,” black characters barely have any time for character development, and often only serve as a buffer for the audience to become introduced to the movie plot. This lack of quality representation results in an extremely superficial understanding of the character, and in turn, of the group they are representing. While films often include minorities, their mediocre portrayals and lack of screen time often leaves audiences wanting more than a way for movies to seem more inclusive.
Horror movies are also known for often leaving the white female character as the last character standing. “Aliens,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Halloween” are prime examples of this common trope, breaking free from any stereotype of women as the weaker sex. This common ending is a shift from a typically manly genre, while still featuring many sexist patterns. Often, the female protagonist is more manly-looking than other female characters — sporting a buzz cut, having a more built physique or simply dressing more masculine.
The female character must also resort to extreme violence to save themselves — again, a trait commonly exhibited by male characters.
While it is believed that the black character is often killed first and the women are the last characters standing, The Huffington Post reported that white women are actually the first to get killed. A look at 25 popular horror movies showed that white women comprise the overwhelming majority of first deaths, approximately 52 percent. On the other hand, black men were the second-to-last group to get killed off first, comprising only 12 percent compared to double the percentage for their white counterparts.
The manner in which women are often killed off further exploits sexist stereotypes. First, there is a stupid, unassuming female who has to ask if anyone is out there — as if psycho killers announce their presence before killing their victims — or simply takes no precautions to save herself. This example can be seen in “The Ring,” where the young girl fails to listen to the creepy voice telling her she has seven days to live.
Horror movies introduce death using sex, where a couple having sex is almost surely killed off. While this isn’t always the first death, it is a common aspect of many horror movies that further contributes to sexist stereotypes. This common trope conveys a theme that virginity will lead to survival, while promiscuity should be punished to the point of death.
For the most part, horror films rely on several stale tropes to scare audiences. While this genre of films is expanding its themes and delving into plots more and more — such as in the indie “It Follows,” the Oscar winner “Get Out,” or the recent “A Quiet Place” — more progress is needed to make horror movies more inclusive and innovative.