Girls and Ghouls

In defense of horror movies

Part of my personal collection of horror movies. Photo by Marie Sayler.

Horror movies often get a bad rep for a lot of reasons, and I understand why. On paper, it doesn’t make a ton of sense why people would enjoy movies designed to make you feel scared and uncomfortable. Movies are generally meant to be an escape from the negative aspects of reality, not a reminder. However, I’ve noticed lately that horror movies often have a particular popularity among young women and queer people. As a young queer woman who loves horror, this week I’d like to talk about why I think that is, and what benefit horror movies can bring.


Have you ever been on a rollercoaster? Why? Why would you put yourself in a situation that safely simulates a near-death experience? Because it’s fun. It’s thrilling and exciting and a rush of adrenaline, without having to take the risk of actually somehow sending your frail human body down a 70 foot drop unprotected. Horror, to me, is like that. It’s a genre in which you can explore horrible, terrifying things in a safe environment. It’s thrilling and exciting and a rush of adrenaline. 

Plus, I don’t think fear is necessarily a bad thing. It’s something that we will all experience, time and again, over the course of our whole lives. It’s also something that is, in our current society, the birthright of women and queer people. We live in a world that is not safe for us. We have to be constantly on guard, and it can be hard not to let fear overcome you and prevent you from living your life. Horror movies make you afraid, yes. But the lights always come up at the end of the movie, and you find that despite having spent the past two hours terrified, you are just fine.

Fear is uncomfortable, and we as humans naturally want to avoid it, but so much of life is made up of doing things even though they scare you. Fear itself cannot hurt you, and horror movies are a way to – consciously or not – remind ourselves of this. I can watch something that scares me and then drive home just fine at the end. I can leave my house as a small, vulnerable young woman, and then drive home just fine at the end. Fear is not a good reason to avoid doing things, and when everything is scary, life is about learning to coexist with your fear and live anyway. 

Blood and Guts

The worst thing a young woman in present society can be is physical. The female body is something that the patriarchy is constantly trying to separate from women. Our likeness is used to sell cars and perfumes, and for men to gawk at and get off on. A woman’s body is not meant to be her own. It’s something to be looked at and acted upon, not for us to do with as we please. But we are the ones living inside these bodies and they belong to us, no matter what society might try to tell us. So much of our lives is spent just trying to keep hold of what is already our own, and for a lot of women this is a painful, bloody experience. How are you going to tell me that I can’t do with my human body as I please when I can literally feel my insides become my outsides on a monthly basis?

Violence, sexual agency, physical freedom – these are all things seen as natural to men and unnatural to women. I don’t think violence is a good thing, but men are encouraged to be violent from the day they are born, while women are taught that violence is anathema, even if violence is already being done to us. 

For a lot of women, myself included, very gory, violent media like slashers are cathartic to consume. I am not allowed violence or agency in the real world, so I will watch movies where the human body is the epitome of physical – mangled or zombified on the ground. It’s not for everyone, and that’s totally fine. I can absolutely see how gore is super disturbing for a lot of people and not something they want to see, and that’s okay! No genre is for everyone. Horror, however, is for me and a lot of other women. It’s nice, in a weird way, to see the human body be reduced to either alive or dead – a woman’s body and a man’s body can get turned into a zombie just the same. The only difference between us now is whether we have survived, not whether we are a person or the second-class category that society considers women. 


Finally, I want to get into a little of what Jeffrey Jerome Cohen calls Monster Theory. Most horror movies have some sort of foreign, horrifying creature that seeks to destroy humanity: in other words, a monster. Monsters are necessarily non-human, or human in the wrong way (see: Frankenstein’s monster), and that’s part of what makes them the antagonist. Humans aren’t even good at accepting other humans who aren’t the same as them, much less other kinds of sentient life. It makes sense, then, that the most terrifying thing is something that is other, something that is the epitome of not-like-us. 

Monsters are something or someone that is crucially unlike humans, and therefore threatens the destruction (see: Godzilla) or degradation (see: zombies) of humanity. They exist outside of society and are, at their very basic, a threat to the status quo. 

A human being, cut apart and sewn back up in a new image, different than before, now a creature that doesn’t fit into any social norms.

Sound familiar? Am I talking about Frankenstein’s monster, or am I talking about a trans person?

Queer people are seen as an unnatural threat to society. I am seen as somehow different and dangerous from other women because I am queer, and I see myself in movies about other beings that “normal” human society does not understand and therefore fears. Part of why queer people are often so drawn to horror as a genre is because we identify with it.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a tragic story, about an innocent creature that doesn’t understand the world he has been born into and is treated like an abomination by the people around him because they don’t understand how he can be like them when he is so different. Again, sound familiar?I am treated like an outside threat to “normal” society just because I am queer, which is something that I can’t help any more than Frankenstein’s monster had a say in his creator sewing him together in the first place.

Movies about monsters tend to be one of two things: stories of misunderstood creatures seen as monsters who are actually innocent, or stories of monsters who are powerful and terrifying in their different-ness. I can relate to the first kind of monster, and the second kind is just fun to imagine myself as.

In real life, my different-ness makes me a target, a punchline, a permanent second choice. Movies provide an escape, and sometimes I like to escape to an imaginary world where instead, whatever makes me so different from everyone else also makes me powerful and worthy of awe. Sometimes I want to be Godzilla, not Frankenstein, you know?

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