Chicks dig scary movies -- A surprising look at why women buy more tickets to slasher pics than men — and how that's changing what we see on screen
The trailer for Jennifer’s Body has everything a teenage boy could reasonably expect, as well as some things he probably wouldn’t dare to dream of. Megan Fox playing a cheerleader, for instance. Megan Fox having a sleep-over with Amanda Seyfried. Megan Fox swimming nude, lighting her tongue on fire for kicks, and — talk about a transformer — turning into a snarling beast with fangs. But the strangest twist to the movie may be that it’s a supernatural bloodbath made by women (Girlfight director Karyn Kusama and Juno scribe/EW columnist Diablo Cody) and, in large part, for women. ”My primary reasons for writing Jennifer’s Body were that I knew about the female horror audience and am a fan myself,” Cody says of the movie, which slashes into theaters Sept. 18. ”Growing up, I was absolutely mesmerized by the horror section at the local video store. It wasn’t a particularly feminine compulsion, and my parents didn’t want me watching that crap.”
Cody’s parents — and the parents of young women everywhere — have lost the battle big-time. For decades, it seemed the sole purpose of movies in which masked and/or disfigured men hunted down lusty young damsels was to give guys a 90-minute outlet for their own aggression and hormones. Today, however, the genre’s biggest constituency of die-hard fans is women. Name any recent horror hit and odds are that female moviegoers bought more tickets than men. And we’re not just talking about psychological spookfests like 2002’s The Ring (60 percent female), 2004’s The Grudge (65 percent female), and 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose (51 percent female). We’re also talking about all the slice-and-dice remakes and sequels that Hollywood churns out.
”I don’t think there was anyone who expected that women would gravitate toward a movie called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” says Chainsaw producer Brad Fuller of the 2003 remake, which became a female-driven $81 million hit. ”For us, the issue now is that it’s harder for us to get young men into the theater than women.” And female audiences stay loyal. ”I’ve seen married women who are, like, 35 years old at horror movies and they’re like, ‘Oh, our husbands are with the kids and we all came out together,”’ says Clint Culpepper, the president of Screen Gems, which is releasing a remake of the 1987 slasher film The Stepfather in October. ”Men stop seeing horror at a certain age, but women continue to go.”
Even the movies popularly known as torture porn, in which hot babes in hot pants are often subjected to medieval torture devices, apparently hold an appeal for young women. Executives preparing to unveil the video-on-demand channel FEARnet didn’t expect women to have the stomach for a subgenre often considered exploitative. ”When we launched the network, we went out and did focus groups and it was the women in the room who really wanted a horror channel more than the guys did,” says FEARnet president Diane Robina. ”I actually thought that the women would be less into the Saw films, but they were much more into them.”
The trend has not been lost on movie studios, which have responded by cranking out a steady supply of scary movies with female protagonists. The latest is Orphan, which stars Vera Farmiga (The Departed) as a grieving mom forced to defend her family from her newly adopted child. The actress is a jolt junkie herself. ”I grew up loving to scare and be scared,” says Farmiga. ”It elicits this surge of adrenaline you don’t get with any other genre. Maybe women are so drawn to it because we’re more emotional creatures and it’s such a visceral experience.”