Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
While it is not the intent of Chillers and Thrillers to titillate its readers, no series concerning sex and horror truly conveys the subgenre without a display of some of the images that have come to represent it, which is the reason that I conclude this series with some examples of such images.
Abducted by the Daleks
Friday the 13th 2: Jason Goes to Hell
Outer Limits (episode with Alyssa Milano)
Perhaps the most blatant example in this gallery for the inclusion of gratuitous nudity in a horror film is Zombie Strippers. The misogynistic attitude toward women that is displayed by many of these images is also striking, suggesting that Hollywood moviemakers seem to have low regard for the female of the species, considering them to be fallen angels, "breeders" (a term that homosexual men sometimes use to describe heterosexual women), living dolls, victims of abduction and rape, playthings, transsexuals, alien monsters, food, and (even when they are dead) strippers. However, to be fair, some directors do not find fault with women as such; rather, they find sex itself repugnant and grotesque, as the fiilms of David Cronenberg, for example, often show.
However, sex in horror is not always as gratuitious as it is in Zombie Strippers. As we have seen, it sometimes has a satirical, a philosophical, or even a religious theme.
No pun intended, but, in literature, horror fiction included, nudity is often more complex than it may appear. Frequently, it takes on symbolic significance, representing such states and conditions as human beings’ animality, vulnerability, and mortality. Sex itself, as we have seen, is often linked, in horror fiction, to perversions of, and deviations form, normal, heterosexual, genital (and generative) sex. In horror fiction, sex often involves adultery, bestiality, homosexuality, incest, transsexuality, and even necrophilia. It also sometimes features extraterrestrials, demons, witches, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and other paranormal or supernatural participants. Such behavior flaunts the will of God, as it is established by the Ten Commandments and other divine laws that are transmitted through Judeo-Christian religious traditions. In other words, such behaviors are sinful acts of disobedience to the divine will.
Indeed, sex with aliens challenges the Judeo-Christian doctrine of a great chain of being in which various creatures occupy greater or lesser levels of significance and value, with God at the apex, followed by angels, human beings, animals, and plants, in this order, for it inserts another creature, extraterrestrial beings, into his chain. Such entities may not be the equal of God, but they seem to transcend human beings. Are aliens superior or interior to angels and their fallen peers, demons? Some consider aliens to be demons in disguise, intent upon deceiving humans, as, indeed, Hamlet suspected the alleged ghost of his father might be. Whether aliens are demons or extraterrestrials, they disturb the great chain of being, because such creatures were never part of it before the skies became home to flying saucers and other unidentified flying objects.
Sex in horror fiction is also a means of introducing twists on traditional understandings and folkways. Demonic possession which also involves sexual acts, perverted or otherwise, may signify sexual conquest. As femme fatales, women, who are traditionally regarded as weak or powerless, become strong and powerful in demon or alien guise, and men, traditionally the strong and powerful ones become the weak and impotent ones. Sex can be described in mechanical, going-through-the-motions terms, especially when one or more of the participants is a robot or a cyborg. In horror fiction, sex is also often misogynistic, expressing or suggesting a fear, and, sometimes, a hatred, of women. The vagina may be described as having, or be shown to have, teeth with which it mutilates (dismembers, in both a literal and a Freudian sense) males, castrating them as they penetrate or have intercourse with them. Alternatively, the penis can be a serpent-like monster with teeth of its own, used to devour women from within.
The movies we have listed in this post depict all of these impulses, themes, and ideas and more. Sex in horror is multivalent, multidimensional, and multifaceted.
In Horror Films of the 1980s, published in 2002 by McFarland & Company, Inc., of Jefferson City, NC, John Kenneth Muir points out some of the additional concerns of sex in horror. The movie Demon Seed (1977), based upon an early Dean Koontz novel, addresses “women’s rights,” Muir says, as well as “technology run amok,” and the story, which involves “rape by [a] computer” that is “programmed by men,” denies the protagonist, Susan Harris, “control” over both “her own body” and, since it causes her to experience an orgasm, against her will, even the very “biochemical” processes of her body (467-470).
Likewise, Muir sees David Cronenberg’s Shivers as a cautionary tale concerning the dangers of so-called casual sex. It is about the consequences, Muir says, of “infidelity, STDs, pedophilia,” and other perverted, deviant, criminal or otherwise incautious sexual behaviors. In the film, a parasite that resembles a phallus (or “fecal matter,” in Muir’s view), and may or may not have been inspired by the disembodied, living, often winged phalli of ancient Greece and the Middle Ages, infect hosts with an aphrodisiac-like chemical that turns men and women into promiscuous sex maniacs who further spread the parasites and their disease. Equal opportunity parasites, the phallic pests enter their hosts orally, anally, or vaginally, through both hetero- and homosexual sex acts. AIDS and other STDs, Muir believes, are the subtext to this film, which, he argues, in some ways anticipates the movie Alien.
The sex in Wes Craven’s film The Last House on the Left serves a theological, or at least a metaphysical theme. In this film, sex takes the form of the rape of a teenage girl and represents, Muir contends, an atheistic world view in which there is no God and, therefore, no purpose in life and “terrible things” can and do “happen to good people” for no reason. The movie’s “theme song,” “The Road Leads to Nowhere” suggests, Muir says, as does the futility of the religious characters’ prayers, to the movie’s theme, that there is neither an “afterlife” nor a God, and that the journey of life “ends only in death.”
Sex in horror can transcend just sex for sex’s sake, or gratuitous sex, and can symbolize social, political, economic, and even metaphysical or theological issues. Often, for Judeo-Christian readers and moviegoers, sex in horror is related to, and often critical of, human beings relationships with themselves, each other, nature, and God. Even when sex in horror is limited to psychoanalytical interpretations, it can sometimes elucidate the causes and consequences of sublimation, repression, and other alleged psychosexual mechanisms.