Beyond the Comfort Zone: Rape in Horror Films


A recent thread in the forum refers to films that go too far. This got me thinking. Can a film really go too far? Let’s assume that every film is made the same way with someone watching the kiddies and the Humane Society on hand to protect the animals. No one really gets hurt and no one really dies. It’s all just for the sake of the movie. If that is the case, is it possible to show us too much? I have noticed that several people seem to be especially turned off by rape scenes. What is it about these that makes them so different?

If you read up (which I have on several forums) you will find that the majority of the readers who have issues with rape scenes are men, which I find interesting. I think perhaps it worries them when they find themselves getting aroused during a rape scene. Maybe they think it says something bad about them as a person. Well, hell, what does that say about me when I get aroused by a rape scene? And trust me it happens occasionally. In fact, what does that say about the millions of women who harbor rape fantasies? Incidentally it is the number one sexual fantasy of women. Should we apologize because our bodies betray us into going against popular thought? Does that make us deviant or disgusting? Of course not. Everyone knows rape is not about sex. Rape is about the exertion of power. And some women find it titillating for a man to take charge. In the same respect, some men find it exciting to imagine taking charge. Often these are the opposite of the way they live their daily lives…hence the term fantasy.

Many men have stated they find themselves angered by rape on screen. That is a desired effect of films that attempt to shock. So that film is then doing what it set out to do.

Most of the negative comments from women that I have come across seem to spring from a feminist viewpoint. They are pissed to see women portrayed in a weak fashion. However being the victim of rape does not make you weak. It makes you a victim. There is no shame in that.

Let’s look at this from a horror fan’s perspective, no gender necessary. Why do we watch horror films? To be frightened. What have I already said frightens us the most? The loss of control. Rape epitomizes this. Therefore it is scary. Why is it then okay to watch someone get decapitated, eviscerated and mutilated but not violated? What is the difference? Rape is a brutal fact of life. It may strike the reality nerve a bit harder than an ax to the face, but that is only because more people can relate to it. Does that then mean that we should stop making films where people lose limbs so we don’t upset the amputees? If you look at this merely from a fan’s point of view then you will see that the point of horror, in particular those film makers that choose to push the envelope, is to create uneasiness in the audience. And the best way to create discomfort is to tap into the deepest fears; to get into those places we ourselves reluctantly tread. Rape does just that.

Personally I find man on man rape to be far more disturbing than when a woman is a victim. That power exchange is unexpected and always makes me uneasy. Films like Deliverance, Pulp Fiction, and Bad Boys (with Sean Penn) make me squeamish. But that does not mean I don’t understand their use in the film or that I think anything negative about them for using it. After all they weren't trying to give me the warm fuzzies. For those who say that rape scenes are gratuitous in horror films, I have a question for you. What isn’t gratuitous in horror films? Before we got so gore-hungry as fans, tons of films were made and did quite the good job of being scary without added violence, gore or nudity. Soon that became bland. Fans wanted more. We needed to be shocked. We needed to be jolted out of our comfort zones. So kills became more graphic and more gruesome. But really, isn’t it all gratuitous for entertainment purposes?

Now please don’t misunderstand me. I am certainly not pro rape. I’m not giving the big “OKAY” sign to all would-be attackers out there. Obviously consensual sex is the only acceptable way to have sex. My point is that rape is a sure-fire way to make us sit up and take notice so film makers will take that route to get us to react. I hope it does disturb you for the most part because it is not normal behavior. However I don’t see how it is going too far. Everything goes too far for some. I don’t enjoy animals being killed in films. I find that more disturbing than anything. But it also effects me more for that reason and as long as it’s not real and I am still lucid enough to know the difference, I will accept the flinch in the pit of my stomach and move on.

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