The Evolving Depiction of Female Characters in the Horror Film Genre

Claire Lympus

This article explores the depiction of women in film, specifically in the American horror film genre through films released over the last fifty years. The article looks at how these women are depicted and why. This analysis is done through a discussion and evaluation of the selected movies with the use of social changes and their effects on the genre as well as their characters, and the neurological and archetypal connections that our brains make. The four movies discussed include Carrie, Silence of the Lambs, Midsommar, and The Menu.


1. Introduction

Storytelling has been used as a vessel to display values, traditions, past experiences, and knowledge. For children, stories are often connected to life lessons or shared to reinforce necessary skills (Engel 2016). In the case of young adolescents, they often communicate shared experiences, self reflection, or present different points of view (The HUB). The film industry is tasked with immersing the viewer into both the story line and the characters. It is an art that requires the writers and directors to focus on the senses of the viewer, specifically those of light and sound. Directors, the primary storytellers, must include symbolism while simultaneously manipulating the emotions and reactions of those watching the film.

Horror is a niche genre that aims to evoke fear in viewers. This requires an understanding of what people fear and why. Fear is a complex emotion that connects to our survival instincts and therefore evolution. On a neurological level, fear stems from a chemical reaction in our brains that guides us to act and think in different ways. When watching a movie, these chemicals are being activated by the portrayals of the characters being seen on the screen as well as the storyteller’s influences. This article will explore the external reasons why women in this genre are being depicted in various ways throughout different time periods, past and present.

This article focuses on four movies, Carrie, Silence of the Lamb, Midsommar, and The Menu. Carrie was directed by De Palma and in theaters in 1976. In this movie, Carrie, the main character, is repeatedly bullied and harassed by both her highly religious mother and her fellow classmates. Once she gains powers of pyrokinesis, telekinesis, as well as telepathy, she eventually tries to kill the entire town to get revenge.

In the 1991 film, Silence of the Lambs, directed by Jonathan Demme, the audience follows FBI agent Clarice Starling to find a serial killer named “Buffalo Bill.” In order to find the serial killer, however, she has to cooperate with the criminally insane ex-psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter. Dr. Lecter and Agent Starling find themselves having to have a subjectively equal exchange of information. For Starling, she had to provide personal information in order to gain insight from Lecter. Agent Starling specifically needed information on Lecter’s previous patient “Buffalo Bill.”

Ari Aster’s 2019 film, Midsommar, follows the main character, Dani, her boyfriend, and his graduate student colleagues to an isolated village in the forest of Sweden. Dani’s family had died due to her sister killing their parents, as well as herself. Dani and the group go to experience the midsommar festival. Dani decides to go to the village to grieve her loss and have a change of scenery with her emotionally distant boyfriend Christian. Christian and his fellow graduate students are there to develop their research thesis. The group finds itself trying to determine what happened to their friends’ mysterious disappearances but learns that the residents were sacrificing themselves and their guests for their ancient pagan rituals.

Director Mark Mylod’s 2022 film, The Menu, follows the main character Margot. Margot is a sex worker who was hired to go to the highly exclusive restaurant Hawthorn. The antagonist, Chef, decided to personally invite individuals that he concluded needed to die. Chef’s criteria for those he deemed worthy to be included in his “masterpiece” were all individuals who had a hand in his career and the person he is today. Margot was the only variable that Chef did not expect, which led her to being the only one to survive the night.

In Section 2, I consider the effects of our laws, social preferences, and history on this form of media, and how each of these components come together to provide an additional perspective. In Section 3, I discuss this issue with a more individualistic approach, including psychology, archetypes, and the chemical rewards offered by watching scary movies. This analysis will consider how all these components affect human interaction. My goal in this article is to discuss how and why women have been portrayed in the horror film genre, what effect these shifts have in terms of storytelling, and the impact of these movies on the individuals watching them.


2. Feminism and Horror

In this section, I discuss how political movements over the last 90 years have affected the characters and their stories in the horror film genre. My discussion will include consideration of the four different movies from the perspective of feminist waves and politics. My goal is to make the case that film, specifically in the horror genre, is a mirror that reflects our decisions, the opinions of society, and the time period of its audience. These factors will be discussed with a specific focus on women and how they and their stories are portrayed. There are four feminist waves in total, each looking at women’s rights from a new perspective, but I will focus on the last three of these waves.

The time period between the end of the first wave and the beginning of the second sets the foundation for contemporary feminist thought. Between 1928 to the 1960s (Raine), there were many historical events that brought to light the potential that women had in the workforce. During World War II, women took the helm at home and at work. As an example, “in the U.S. aircraft industry in 1943, [women made] up 65 percent of the industry’s total workforce” (HISTORY.COM 2023). The idea that women were able to work and maintain a home, that they were able to hold both masculine and feminine roles, was a novel idea.

Rosie the Riveter, a feminist pop culture icon, was a product of these times. Rosie is a representation of female independence and beauty, reinforcing the importance of internal and external strength. This is especially seen in her quote, “We can do it” (Cokely 2023). Two prominent academic works were written during this period. The Second Sex (De Beauvoir 1956) and The Feminine Mystique (Friedan 2001) both aided in pioneering the fundamental ideologies for modern feminism.

This 32-year span is an important time frame for all other waves of feminism that followed. The women of this generation were able to obtain financial and personal freedom, which allowed many to remain in the workforce. This raised questions regarding the power and autonomy that women should have. One issue that arose for women trying to enter the workforce was whether or not they had, or were planning to have, a family. This consideration would lead to a discussion on birth control and other forms of contraceptives, as seen in the second wave (McKay 2020). An implication of this time is that women graduating with a STEM major in the 1970s increased by 30% due to the normalization, as well as legalization, of birth control (McKay 2020).

The harassment and low wages (Mcdermott 2023) that followed this generation would ripple out to the third wave of feminism. The utilization of highly accessible platforms to discuss important topics pertaining to women’s rights was evident both during this period and during the fourth wave (Britannica). These platforms allowed women from different places all over the world to share their experiences and thoughts, creating additional opportunities for growth in feminist thought (Britannica). Due to these women’s hard work and lasting impression, Baby Boomers embraced and reinforced the second wave of feminism (Peltola et al. 2004).

The second wave took place between the 1960s and the late 1980s. The most prominent topics from this period are an increased focus on women’s health, individuality, and a divergence of public opinion on sexuality. Contraceptives and birth control were being normalized during this time period (McKay 2020). This eventually led to there being legislation and Supreme Court cases on the issue, discussed in further detail below, that reflect this as well.

In the 1976 movie Carrie (De Palma 1976), one can see the impact of these political and social changes and reforms. The main character, Carrie, is introduced to the audience in the opening scene of her in the shower beginning menarche. In essence, menarche is the beginning stages of female adulthood as well as the start of the individual exploring their sexuality. Carrie’s mother, in opposition, represents the purity culture ideals of the previous generation (Kael 1976). Purity culture, in the 1960s, was the popular societal belief that individuals need to wait until marriage before having sex (Blue Ridge PBS – American Experience – The Pill).

Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut both took place during this period and gave women more power to make their own decisions about their sexual health. These verdicts allowed American women to choose what they could do with their bodies in terms of female health (National Women’s Law Center 2022). Throughout the movie, Carrie displays independence in opposition to her mother’s fear of sin. The conflict between fear within the social construct of purity and freedom in owning one’s sexuality, as displayed by the film, is one reason why Carrie inevitably killed her mother. These are all instrumental concepts and understandings of this time period.

Carrie exemplified the beliefs of the purity movement. There was a lack of understanding and progression that caused there to be a clear divide between the new and old methods of thinking in terms of women’s sexual health and knowledge. When considering the political climate of women’s rights associated with sexual health at the time, this reaction was not uncommon for the older generation. Communication, trust, and respect for others’ experiences or beliefs were not properly acted upon by the older generation.

The third wave, spanning the 1990s, primarily looked at inclusivity as well as expanding the rights of women and minorities. In this wave, there was a further discussion on what is appropriate and acceptable in terms of consent for physical contact in a professional setting as well as identifying the beginning stages of intersectionality. Consent in the workplace is mostly focused on preventing undesired sexual advances in this wave but is expanded upon in the fourth wave.

The beginning stages of intersectionality sought to bring to light the combination of various groups that are discriminated against due to different peoples’ varying characteristics. In this wave, intersectionality addressed such groupings as gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and age. These are all traits according to which individuals can be aligned. Where intersectionality differs from the standard single variable understanding of what discrimination is, is that it seeks to acquire a big-picture understanding upon an individual and their experiences in life.

For instance, one person may face discrimination based on their race, while another individual, who is also subjected to racial discrimination, additionally encounters sexism. The difference between the first and second individual is where intersectionality lies. Simply put, the beginning stages of intersectionality looked at the base characteristics that apply to different groups within the population.

In The Silence of the Lambs, an illustration of the prevailing intersectionality of this time includes concepts of consent, workplace harassment, and gender. These concepts would be expanded upon in the fourth wave. These new concepts allowed for there to be a richer discourse on the topic of sexual harassment (National Women’s History Museum 2020). Intersectionality is defined by the Center of Intersectional Injustice as a “[c]oncept… [that] describes the ways in which systems of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class and other forms of discrimination “intersect” to create unique dynamics and effects.”

The Silence of the Lambs, made in 1991, strongly exemplifies political change and its effects on the horror genre (Demme 1991). While the main character, Agent Clarice Starling, was on the job, various male characters sexually harassed her. The general administrator for Baltimore State Hospital and her boss both propositioned her. When Starling evades both men’s advances, she is sexually harassed by an inmate while trying to meet Hannibal Lecter. The 1986 Supreme Court case Meritor Savings v. Vinson, displays the importance of the external influences, including the third wave, on the film and how it depicts the story.

In other words, this court case presents the shifting perspectives of rights focusing on harassment and how the people in the United States would have perceived the content in the film. Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson “[h]eld that a hostile or abusive work environment can prove discrimination based on sex” (National Women’s History Alliance). Anita Hill was one of the first people to speak out about her experience with sexual harassment on live television in 1991. Her alleged abuser is still a powerful Supreme Court Justice today.

Seven months after the movie was produced, Anita Hill came out with her story of sexual harassment in a public statement (C-SPAN 2018). Hill, much like Starling, was in a position of power as well as having their personal autonomy encroached upon. Hill and Starling worked within a political sphere of some kind, but their rights were not taken into consideration when they were being harassed. Both women were expected to remain calm and collected when faced with unwanted advances due to their desire to be successful in their given careers.

However, unlike Starling, Hill had to deal with the real-life long-term effects of the patriarchal and racist system of America in the 90s (The New York Times 2019). In the instance of The Silence of the Lambs, we can see the beginning shifts of political powers and social opinions on the matter. The main character of the film in question experienced the prejudice of the workplace based on her gender.

Starling utilized trust, communication, and understanding in order to achieve her goal of catching the serial killer Buffalo Bill. This cooperation and respect that both Starling and Lecter display for one another is a characteristic that was being sought after between the feminist activists and the populous. Though more modes of communication were becoming popular during that time period, like live television in the case of Anita Hill, there would be added complexities in developing this comradery. The Silence of the Lambs displays that with the additional intricacy provided by the advancement of technology, there is a possibility to work together, better our quality of life, as well as look out for ourselves.

The fourth and final wave, spanning from the start of the 21st century to today, combines the focus on intersectionality with activism on social media. An example that is seen in the comparison of both The Menu and Midsommar. Margot, the main character of The Menu, is of low economic status, a woman, as well as a sex worker. Dani, the main character in Midsommar, is a woman, is mentally unstable and lacks a proper support system. These are all factors that would have “unique dynamics and effects” (Center for Intersectional Justice), even though there are similarities between the two.

Both characters are Caucasian women in their twenties who are traditionally good-looking. This intersectionality has also helped in this wave’s activism and expanded the social rights issues they touch upon. Due to social media, having access to various modes of communication and plentiful information sources, this wave is focused primarily on the idea of looking at the collective group that inhabits society, rather than just one group of women due to its involvement with social media and its international influences (Raine). Two aspects of this wave I discuss are mental health and sex workers’ rights.

Mental health is depicted in various ways throughout the movie Midsommar (Aster 2019). The main character, Dani, goes to Sweden with her boyfriend and his friends after her sister commits a murder-suicide with the remaining members of her immediate family. Dani, over the course of the movie, experiences death over and over again in different forms: the public sacrifice to the Nordic gods, the symbolic death of her relationship with her boyfriend, and also the actual death of her boyfriend because of her rage. She is allowed to show rage, pain, and depression unlike that of Carrie and Clarice from the previous waves.

Mental health is more accepted in our society today than it was in the past (Latha et al. 2020). The Disabilities Movement started in the 1960s, but it did not gain traction until 1973. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act recognized the rights of individuals with disabilities, including mental illnesses such as depression (Vallie and Sachdev 2022). Due to social media providing a large platform to share information and awareness with others, there is a destigmatization of mental health and disabilities (Latha et al. 2020). This allowed there to be a movie where the main character with mental illness was able to live, unlike her predecessors.

The Menu, which came out in 2022, offers another example of a feminist horror movie that looks at a different aspect of the fourth wave (Mylod). The Menu looks at classism, sexism, and a critique of the corruption of wealth. The main character, Margot, is a guest in the exclusive restaurant Hawthorn, located on a private island. Eventually, we find out the truth behind the characters’ backgrounds and how they all connect with one another. Margot is a sex worker who was hired to attend with her date, Tyler. Margot is a character that represents the working class and the future of the movement.

Today, there are starting to be more discussions around the rights of sex workers and women’s rights over their own bodies in the United States. Prostitution, currently, “is a crime throughout the United States except in a few rural counties in the State of Nevada” (Wex Definitions Team 2020). Two examples of state court decisions that address this issue during the third wave are People v. Hinzmann in 1998 New York, and California v. Campbell in 1999 California (Wex Definitions Team 2020). Both cases concluded that any form of sexual interaction that is paid for is considered illegal.

Prostitution is a state-determined legal issue, not being under the control of the federal government. The legalization of prostitution is a topic that is commonplace discourse in the feminist arena. Some believe that “prostitutes are exploited by the ruling class,” “sex work is oppressive [both in an economic sense and sexual sense],” and that “the selling of sex is no different than the selling of other types of labor in exchange for a wage” (Robinson 2007, 7-9).

The majority of feminists currently, however, believe that sex work should be legalized. Legalizing sex work would “become safer when it is regulated, … weed[ing] out the black market that exists for prostitution, … sex workers [would] not [be] branded as criminals; encourag[ing them] to report behaviors that are a danger, … [increase] tax revenue, reduction in sexually transmitted diseases, and reallocation of law enforcement resources” (Forestiere 2019).

Margot is the representation of the future of the fourth wave that includes the legalization of sex work as well as the de-stigmatization of prostitution. This is due to the previous visibility of women’s rights in terms of deciding what they want to do with their bodies, looking closer at the differences and challenges faced by the working class versus the wealthy, as well as commercialism and its side effects on modern society.

For both Midsommar and The Menu, there was the additional necessity of understanding the other characters’ thoughts and feelings during the story. This started to develop with the third wave, which is why it found its way into the more recent films. Empathy, or the ability to understand another’s feelings (Merriam-Webster), is something that Carrie’s story was lacking. Agent Starling, in The Silence of the Lambs, was able to establish a foundation of trust because both agents formed a bond with one another. This idea that empathy and not othering individuals is an important factor of survival in the horror film genre exemplifies the essential nature that this trait has for the future of the feminist movement in the world today and in the future.

Throughout these waves we can see that laws, social movements, as well as the majority of shared opinions on important topics have a great effect on the portrayal of women in the genre. There is a distinct difference in the ways that leading female characters are portrayed in Carrie, being a villain due to her representing un-virtuous ideologies, and The Menu, being seen as a virtuous character even though in the past she would be considered otherwise. This does not answer, however, the influence of the individual on women in horror films. How do the actions and habits of one person affect the group? This question is explored in the next section.


3. Archetypes and Neurological Factors

In the context of social change and evolving female stereotypes, this section discusses archetypes, intertextuality, and human psychology. Through these lenses, it explores the reasons why storylines change over time and how these changes affect female characters in the horror genre. By understanding the various components discussed, the reader will able to see the correlation between the individual in terms of their choices and physiological responses and the group, as presented in the last section.

Comprehending the connection between the human mind and archetypes is important, as humans have evolved to categorize and distinguish between what is good and bad, also known as cognitive thinking. These different categories are created through experience and knowledge, offering us a higher chance of survival, as well as allowing us to comprehend the environment in a general sense. On a neurological level, dopamine and adrenaline both are produced when the individual is afraid and in danger.

These chemicals affect the mind in a psychological way, such as making the individual feel increased pleasure, and in a physical manner, such as enabling a person to run faster as to escape a source of danger. Our brains produce dopamine and adrenaline to reinforce what we learn from our experiences and to reaffirm the good or bad categories. Due to us not living in environments where this survival trait is necessary, it has manifested itself into different parts of modern life.

Archetypes and intertextuality, both being a by-product of this process, are types of categorizations that are based on pattern recognition utilized for the purpose of storytelling. In the horror genre, directors or writers use such categorization and familiarity in order to reinforce the chemicals being produced when the audience is afraid. The directors and writers display what the audience is afraid of, giving them a positive reinforcement of their fears from the dopamine and adrenaline being produced. This reinforces the audience’s cognitive biases regarding their original categorization of what is considered good and bad. By doing so, directors and writers continue the cycle to feed into our subconscious minds and beliefs.

In terms of processing information, human beings use various methods to comprehend the world. People use cognitive biases when “intuitive thinking is used to reach conclusions about information rather than analytic (mindful) thinking” (Hammond et al. 2021). Intuitive thinking is an individual’s instinctual reaction and thoughts on some issue. Human beings use instincts and prior experiences to interpret the world around them more than anything else. Intuitive thinking is a way of processing social change that is displayed in horror film archetypes due to the goal of the genre to instill fear into the audience. Because archetypes are a classification tool, it is important to consider their connection with cognitive biases.

Correlating archetypes and cognitive biases allows one to understand the “structure within which one can understand a broad range of existing findings” (Becker and Neuberg 2019, 12). These findings include developmental capacities and an individual’s comprehension of experiences. It considers content-addressable memory, context sensitivity, soft constraints, and learning in subsymbolic systems (Becker and Neuberg 2019, 10-1).

The horror genre is a method of storytelling that prioritizes instilling fear into the audience. This fear is “trigger[ed by our]… fight-or-flight response, which comes with a boost in adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine” (CSP Global). Therefore, we get a psychological and physiological reward for being afraid, due to watching a horror movie. We know that the threats portrayed on the screen cannot actually hurt us in that moment, and we can detach ourselves from the story to a certain degree. Those who watch horror films, “enjoy intellectual stimulation and imaginative activities, and that many are sensation seekers—people who love thrills and new experiences” (Moyer 2022).

From a sociological perspective, we can conclude that there is a reason that we seek these rewards from the genre. The adrenaline rush acts similarly to that of “cocaine and amphetamines, [due to both producing] monoamine neurotransmitters dopamine (DA), norepinephrine, and serotonin [throughout the body]” (Schmidt and Weinshenker 2014). There is a connection between being afraid in the controlled environment of the movie theater and taking an addictive drug, due to the overlap in the chemical reactions.

This connection can lead to the audience to be rewarded for perpetuating mental representations of other minorities, groups, and archetypes that are being portrayed on screen. Dopamine has been recently found to be associated with learning and reiterative habits (Pettibone et al. 2015). This would mean that mental representations and endorsement of archetypes in the horror film genre, both good and bad, are being reinforced when watching horror films.

The way the human brain is constructed affects various facets of our lives. The foundation of this, however, is through cognitive thinking. One of the primary purposes of cognitive thinking is to comprehend the world around us. This would also allow us to achieve a hierarchy of priorities, likes, and dislikes. What we consider to be generally good or bad often is reflected in these preferences. This “hierarchy of such systems, organized by their increasing flexibility… [such as:] basic emotions, such as fear and rage and higher still, social emotions like attachment and play” (Becker and Neuberg 2019, 3).

We can see this preferential ranking system in terms of archetypes as well as in the stories that are portrayed on the screen. The archetypes and shifting stories for women in the horror genre have been affected by the hierarchy from the preferences of the population, which I discussed in Section 2. The shifting hierarchy of societal preferences and morals has evolved from generation to generation. Our collective morals, emotions, understandings, and experiences all affect the preference hierarchy of the horror genre industry as well as the women’s stories that are within them.

Being able to reference and draw from the audience’s memories, experiences, and understandings of the world is fundamental for the creation of a story in any medium. This is the reason that the use and understanding of archetypes in the horror film industry is so important, and the relevance of the term intertextuality. Intertextuality is “the interconnectedness of cultural narratives, … [in which it is common to have the thing in question be referenced] … backward to structures and ideas contained in earlier [works] (Hirschman 2000).

Referencing previous works by the means of archetypes is a common feature in the horror genre. Midsommar, for example, has elements of intertextuality. In Midsommar, the writers interconnect elements from the story of Alice and Wonderland, as seen by the psychedelic tea and continuous morphing of the main character’s body, which signals their emotional state and when action is going to take place. There are also references to bears throughout the movie, which symbolize “strength, healing, inner wisdom and balance between the seen and the unseen world” (Tag Archives: Animals in Norse Mythology 2015). These representations also overlap with Dani’s journey in the story. Bears were seen in Dani’s apartment and throughout the Swedish village.

Intertextuality is more closely associated with objects or physical representations rather than just characters. To look at this further, intertextuality is based upon a foundation of “systems, codes, and traditions established by previous works of literature” (Allen 2000). Character archetypes are groupings of traits, relationships, and actions amongst characters. Both are methods to share information with their audiences within the confines of the story, and draw connections. The primary difference, however, is that intertextuality is a direct reference to different literary works as well as symbols rather than a generalized version produced by character archetypes (Stockwell and Whiteley 2014).

In other words, intertextuality is a method used by the individual creating the story, author or director, to draw connections between works through commonly known references. These references are representations that could be in a physical or verbal format. If a character says “I’m no Shakespeare,” as an example, the audience can automatically understand the creator’s intended meaning as well as source of the reference. Intertextuality, in summary, is a storytelling method that utilizes the representations and identifiable characteristics in the audience’s memories with the intent to portray a feeling or additional meaning to the dialogue and story overall.

Archetypes can be defined as “a primordial image, character or pattern of circumstances that recurs throughout literature” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2023). The primary archetype analyzed in the article is different characters. A key trait of these archetypes is that they “appear repeatedly in human cultures” (Literary Terms 2015). Character archetypes are characters “with specific traits and a role in their community or in the literary work” that they are portrayed in ( A few examples of character archetypes are the “hero, rebel, villain, heroine, victim, underdog, mother seeker, [and] buffoon” (Acuff 2010).

The common archetypes most often portrayed by women in the horror genre are the heroine and the villain. The heroines are the ones that represent desired morals. In the 1990s, the term “Final Girl” was formed as a sub-classification within the genre for a heroine. Unlike some other heroines, Final Girls are the ones who are always the last ones standing to oppose the villains of the movie. The creator of the term “Final Girl” discusses the primary characteristics of this archetype in Men, Women, and ChainSaws.

First, they must be acting in “passive to active defense” (Clover 1992, 37) against the killer and are the “one who looks death in the face, and who survives the murderer’s last stab” (Clover 1992, 38). The method in which the Final Girl defends herself is dependent on the political changes of the viewing population referenced in Section 2.

Second, the “Final Girl” is boyish (Clover 1992, 40). The aspect of boyishness has become an important feature of this archetype. They need to exemplify qualities that are stereotypical for both men and women in various degrees. This character needs to have a level of “smartness, gravity, competence in mechanical and other practical matters, and [is] sexual[ly reluctant]” (Clover 1992, 40), allowing her to both stand out from the other female characters of the story and survive.

The characteristic of being sexually reluctant changes with the shifting political climate. That being said, it is a more traditional understanding of the term. Their overall role is meant to represent good conquering evil. The villains of horror films are often portrayed as mentally ill, intentionally isolating themselves from societal norms, and deviating from the moral path.

We can look at the 1976 movie Carrie as an example. The main character was depicted as a recluse who was repeatedly abused by her mother and the kids in town. Eventually, she dies due to her own malice towards the world and an overuse of her powers. Conversely, Carrie died because she could not see the support from those around her. She relied on her mother, who would repeatedly verbally, psychologically, and physically abuse her when she faced difficult challenges as she grew up. She did not trust in the kindness of Tommy Ross, her prom date, nor the advice and care from Betty Buckley, her teacher. Thus, the only individual who survived her wrath was Sue Snell. Sue was once a bully but changed her ways and actively tried to make Carrie’s life better throughout the story. Sue survived because she grew and became a better person, cooperating and building trust with those around her. Carrie, on the other hand, died because she did not.

We look for connections between characters and prior experiences originating from cognitive thinking, as previously discussed. Dopamine that is released when the body is in the middle of an adrenaline rush reinforces our cognitive thinking and biases upon the archetypes displayed. Dopamine is a chemical produced by the brain that affects behavior, cognition, learning, pleasurable reward, and motivation (Cleveland Clinic). Due to the “rewards” produced by an adrenaline rush, it can be dangerous without external factors. These factors include such things as the progression of societal opinion, laws that are set in place, and the broadening of information and understanding when considering oppressed groups, like that of women in the horror film genre.

The influence of the moral hierarchy, from the preference ranking that was mentioned, breaks down negative narratives and stereotypes. This helps create a more open platform for different types of stories and characters, which includes women in the horror genre. Dopamine production encourages the individual to learn repeated physical reactions to the stimuli (Coddington et al. 2023), in this case, horror movies. This would mean that these agents are encouraged to learn what is and is not socially acceptable via dopamine production when observing this genre and the representations of women on the screen. Thus, we are apt to identify sociological change when observing these stories through an objective lens.

In essence, archetypes and intersectionality are both a result of human evolution. Human beings can comprehend the world by connecting different experiences throughout our lives. This would mean that we naturally seek out similarities with different characters throughout various stories. The archetype of a “Final Girl” was a byproduct of this factor of the human experience.

The archetypes and neurological factors through the horror genre’s utilization of learning chemicals produced by fear are identifiable in the characters depicted in the fourth wave, with Midsommar. The main female characters in these movies have evolving representation and power in different ways. Dani, from the fourth wave, is able to depict her depression, mental instability, and emotions throughout the film without being the villain of the story.

Antagonists, in an archetypal sense, tend to be individuals who have a questionable moral compass. They do not follow traditional social conventions and virtues (Acuff 2010). Selecting Dani’s neglectful boyfriend would have traditionally portrayed her as the antagonist, however, the audience witnesses her express her pain and psychotic break. Due to the film portraying what the audience inherently believes, we can assume that this would indicate that we are evolving how we interpret what qualifies as a villain and a “Final Girl.”


4. Conclusion

In this article, I critically considered the horror genre and its depiction of female characters in four films spanning the last five decades. Specifically, I discussed the films Carrie, The Silence of the Lambs, Midsommar, and The Menu. Different lenses, including feminism and horror, as well as archetypes and neurological factors, were employed to elucidate the endings of the movies and the correlation between their storylines and the depictions of the female characters they portray. Section 2, on feminism and horror, demonstrated the external reasons as to why there was an evolution of the female leads. Section 3, on archetypes and neurological factors, discussed the psychological and interpersonal factors that affect this metamorphosis.



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