Picture this: you’re in high school and you’re wandering down a long hallway filled with your insufferable and obnoxious peers. Everyone except you seems to be swarmed with people, skipping off in pairs, trios, and quartets. You’re the oddball, the weirdo, the freak. You don’t fit in.
Unlike the rest of the school population vying to force fit themselves into a highschool archetype, you’re different. You don’t wear makeup, you don’t know the difference between the Jonas Brothers and Backstreet Boys, or what foundation is. You’re focused on real problems, like climate change or feminist philosophy. You don’t crave attention, or want to fit in. You don’t even wear moisturising lip balm or have a skincare routine and get straight As. You’re different. You’re the Nerd.
As you shuffle down the seemingly never-ending hallway, swarming with jocks and preps, you’re unaware of your surroundings (you’re too hyper-focused on your book on Marxism) when all of a sudden, you’re crashing to the ground after a harsh shove. You look up, it’s the Mean Girl- the queen bee who managed to claw her way to the top of the high school hierarchy. Her long hair silky and smooth, face impeccably done up, and her tall thin frame wrapped in a pink outfit. It pisses you off how she knows how to exploit her beauty, because Goddamit she looks good!
Her entourage of bullies rally behind her- her minions, the Jock and his groupies. The Jock and his groupies guffaw and start tossing around a basketball- wait no, a football- wait no, a soccer ball?- how about this, a ball. As they jump and hoot away, the Jock plants a wet kiss on the Mean Girl’s rouged cheek, before joining his groupies in swinging themselves down the hallway.
On the other side of campus, the Loner sits alone, listening to emo music with a heavy set of headphones and dressed head to toe in black. Elsewhere, the New Girl is shuffling in, eyes wide and shining with innocence- untouched from the cruel hierarchy of the high school social system.
Now back to you: you’re miffed, and irritably pick up your worksheets and beat-up sketchbook from the ground (did I mention how edgy you are?) and imagine your life away from high school. You mutter about how horrible your life is as you drag your feet and get to your classroom. But you won’t be miserable for long, because soon, you’ll find yourself in a situation that ties you to the Jock, the Mean Girl, the New Girl and the Loner.
The five of you will be forced to run from, hide from, or track down a serial killer that’s gone loose and is brutally brutalising the teenagers in your school. Each of you will be ticked off one by one, until finally you’re the last girl standing and forced to choose between the Loner and the Jock- because obviously the girls will be killed off first. In an upset, the Jock will be revealed as the killer, and you as the Last Girl Standing must be chased down in true horror movie fashion, until your final escape where your movie will find an ambiguous end.
Or at least, that’s how it goes down in every horror movie about teenagers. If you grew up on movies from the 90s and early 2000s, you’ll definitely know about the emergence of the bubblegum pink horror movies. For the horror fans, these would be movies like Suspiria and Midori but for chick flick fans, these would be Jawbreaker and maybe even Heathers. Essentially, they're a special subgenre of horror that has a ‘feminine’ touch- visually stunning shots, and bright and colourful retro-style posters. Seemingly completely opposite from what you’d probably see from the likes of Hitchcock and Hawking.
But I want to focus on the feminine aspect- specifically, the role of female teen characters.
BLOOD, GORE, AND THE TEENAGE GIRL
Feminist film theory often criticises the horror genre for their presentation of female characters. The Last Girl standing trope, is one such example, where the final female character is forced to run away from a maniacal killer- often after a long, voyeuristic torture scene that leaves her bloody and clothes torn. The film comes to an end when she finally escapes the killer’s clutches, long after her torturous fight for her life.
Basically, women are often killed and quite rarely were portrayed as anything other than that for a long period of time. Cue the murderous teen girl- the point of focus for this article.
From Cruel Intentions, to Girl, Interrupted, to Jawbreaker, and Sharp Objects, it seems that we’ve developed a fascination with young female killers. Different from the femme fatale, the murderous teen girl is often unempathetic and narcissistic. While she’s not above using her sexuality to get her way, she’s more violent and cunning, rather than seductive and coquettish. She uses her feminine wiles and youthful innocence to skirt the law and manipulate the people around her- until she can’t. Thus leading to the girlboss-ification of horror (as one Youtuber calls it) which marks the turning point of female representation in horror. What’s interesting though, isn’t that women can now be killers, it’s more on why these girls kill.
In the horror genre, male killers are simply… killers. They’re just blood thirsty lunatics who crave blood and massacre- the gorier the kill, the better. In slasher films, antagonists like Leatherface and Ghostface aren’t usually given clear motives. Female teen killers, on the other hand, are filled with internalised rage and kill to externalise some of it or maintain their control.
Heather Chandler from Heathers is, as other characters call her, “a mythic bitch”. While she’s cunning and ruthless, her anger is punctuated with brief moments where her insecurity and self-hate peaks through the surface. Underneath all her adult-like scheming is her child-like insecurity of simply not measuring up to what she presents herself to be: cool, wanted and filled with worldly adult experience.
Much like Heather Chandler, The Killer Teen Girl is power-hungry and ultimately craves love. She’s adored and lusted over by her peers and older men, and keeps the people around her on a tight leash through manipulation or fear. However, her adolescence holds her back: she’s cunning and definitely on a power trip, but she’s immature and driven by spite and jealousy.
For me, the most intriguing of Killer Teen Girls is Amma Crellin from Sharp Objects.
Throughout the show- and the book- it’s clear that Amma toes the line between virginal and promiscuous extremely well. She’s learned to control the way people view her- she is sweetly dressed in white bows and frilly dresses for her neurotic mother, but sports short skirts and low v-necks at school and late-night parties.
Like the other Killer Teen Girls, Amma uses assumptions to her advantage. She knows she is underestimated by the adults in her life, and uses it to hide in plain sight. She bullies and kills off her competitors for her mother’s love, even terrorising her sister Camille, while maintaining her innocent veneer in front of her mother. Throughout Sharp Objects, Amma skirts between these two versions of herself until her own weakness exposes her- her dollhouse.
And as the final act of the show closes, Amma’s animalistic skills are revealed in a haze of echoes and dissonant sounds and shaky, choppy cuts in the midst of the show’s final credit scene until finally, the viewer’s final glimpse of her is her face through a grill, barely concealed but clearly and unmistakably cold.
I searched high and low for more analysis on this new archetype of women in horror- but found nothing. What I did find however, is extensive articles and literature on female rage. In the past, anger and femininity have been seen as incompatible.
Angry women were merely the backdrop of a comedy set- nagging mothers and cranky wives for audiences to laugh at. As for the female subject herself, she’s the surrogate for a killer’s beliefs. But this new shift in the horror genre has given rise to a new depiction: that female rage is much deeper than unwashed dishes in the sink- it’s all-consuming and cyclical, even deadly.
Finally, the female characters are given agency in the narrative, and whether they’re behind the pen, or the knife, it’s clear that a new kind of story is being told. One that is raw, authentic, and so bloody real.
Celebrate Halloween with Crane! If you’re into guts, blood and filled with rage, you’ll enjoy anything from Craneum to a Quantam Supercharger.