Women in Horror Films: The Repressed and Depressed

The Autopsy of Jane Doe, tackles many issues and themes within such as the patriarchy and religious symbolism. However, the most obvious one would be feminism. Feminism in the horror genre has evolved over the years and has become more prominent even in the small screen horror genre.

The role of women in films have always been very controversial, especially in horror genre. In movie classics such as Silence of the Lambs and Scream, women are the victims and often end with such tragic fate. However, over the years we see a more active role women have in this genre. Carol J. Clover, author of the 1992 book Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film coined the term “Final Girl”. By definition, it is the last girl we see on the film, the one left alive to narrate the sequence of events. Though, it is not always as if the girl is the hero, the final girl can also be the monster or villain in the story.

Carrie was one of most beloved stories in the 70’s. Written by Stephen King which was then adapted to the big screen, the story revolves around a teenager who channels her power and gets revenge after being bullied by her peers. In this story, Carrie becomes the “Final Girl”. Similar to The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Jane, though does not have a speaking role in the film is very much active in the plot. The actress was given much laud and praise for her performance despite only laying down on the table 98% of the time. Her story was never truly revealed, only speculations in the eyes of the two men who “dissected” her. But Jane here is the final girl, the one who says the last word. She channels her power and takes revenge, the same way Carrie does.

When we watch horror films, we usually try to identify who the villain and hero is in the story. However, in this film we could say that both characters could be associated with Jane Doe. This is not the first, we see this also in Carrie as well as in the 2015 movie Final Girl played by Abigail Breslin. With Jane Doe, we know based on her past that she was brutally attacked and became a victim of harassment and inhumane torture. She was a victim during her time and only wants to seek revenge for what the humans did to her, thus in a way playing a “hero” to a certain extent.

According to Robin Wood, the whole idea of women are created and controlled by men. The male dominance is seen in the patriarchal aspect of the story of the Jane Doe. Evidently, when we see the body of Jane lying on the cold table, undressed, we see her having no control of her surroundings. One, because she’s dead and secondly, it symbolises powerlessness of a woman, which revealed later on was the total opposite. In a way, Jane here is also considered “The other”. Through the strange signs and symptoms of Jane, she is identified to be a witch.

Witchcraft and sorcery has long been part of the American History, especially with the famed court cases of the Salem Trials in Massachusetts. In the horror genre and with technology evolving, stories of witches are no longer those who wear a pointed hat, with a black cape and amazonian type of body. Witches today look more and more like humans and live among us. One of the eeriest witch stories was the 2015 movie “The Witch” set in colonial America. It definitely questions what you think of what is true and not in this world.

Witches continue to be present even to this day. We hear countless of beheadings and killings done in various countries due to this sorcery, superstition and witchcraft they resort to. In a way, those who tend to believe these type of practices are considered the “other” in society. Jane, who was believed to be a witch in the past was controlled by power and dominance by men in society. It was never explicitly said, but I think her choosing to take revenge in the two men who was performing her autopsy might have something to do with men abusing her or taking advantage of her. To no surprise, the female sexuality will be very much be brought to much attention in a film like this.

I would not be surprised if the police in charge knew anything about the mystery of Jane. The fact that they brought her in, in the middle of the night to do a rushed autopsy signified something was going to happen in the next few hours. Even until the final scene, where the officer insists that the body be transferred to another county, it is possible that they could have done something to that girl before her untimely death. Again, like in our current situation today, the legal systems do not condemn such practice thus whoever is caught is either given the death sentence or tried in front of the court.

Source:

Clover, Carol J. Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (1992)

Wood, Robin. “American Nightmare Horror in the 70’s”. Horror, The Film Reader. London: Routledge (2002) 

Horrowitz, Mitch. “The Persecution of Witches, 21st – Century Style”. The New York Times. (2014) https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/05/opinion/the-persecution-of-witches-21st-century-style.html?_r=0

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