Christine's Note: This is a guest post by Jennifer Brinkmeyer, who rises early to blog about horror and write, and then spends her day teaching teenagers. I asked Jennifer to guest here after reading her article on The Top 10 Classics for Beginners.
The horror genre is filled with female protagonists, or “Scream Queens,” who each have their own version of the hero’s journey. Today I will focus on the how the heroines of Scream, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Carrie use the monomyth to tell their stories.
In Scream, Sidney Prescott (as played by Neve Campbell) travels on the most traditional journey. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy (as played by Kristy Swanson and Sarah Michelle Gellar) uses a more ironic version of the monomyth. And in Stephen King’s Carrie (as played by Sissy Spacek), Carrie is an anti-heroine.
Here are their journeys, deconstructed into three parts.
- Scream: The traditional horror journey requires fortitude with the emphasis on overcoming psychological barriers, though the hero also needs enough physical prowess to escape the antagonist. As Scream heroine Sidney continues to grieve her mother’s rape and murder, it keeps her aloof from her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich). She has friends, but they are fairly insensitive when a fellow student’s murder stirs up old feelings for Sidney.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The ironic horror journey is captured by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her Dreary Homeland (found in the movie only) is that she’s popular, rich, and beautiful. No trauma in sight. However, this superficial happiness bores Buffy. As she longs for something more, she begins dreaming of past slayers.
- Carrie: Our anti-hero Carrie has the dreariest homeland, one of constant trauma. She’s bullied by peers, forgotten by teachers, and repressed by her mother. She doesn’t even know the basics of her own body. She’s estranged from everyone, including herself. Then, her telekinetic powers awaken.
The bulk of the hero’s journey takes place in “Awful-Awesome Land.” In horror, this involves solving some mystery in the midst of conflicting feelings of doubt (awful) and belief (awesome).
- Scream: For Sidney (and most scream queens) this is more awful than awesome as they try to find and stop the antagonist. The person who killed Sidney’s classmate makes an attempt on her life. As she tries to figure out who the killer could be, she “falsely” accuses her boyfriend.
Journalist Gail Weathers (Courteney Cox) casts doubt that Sidney put the right man behind bars for her mother’s murder. Sidney believes the murders are connected, but her self-doubt reaches its height when she tries to get over it–and her grief–by sleeping with Billy. When the killer shows up, she locks her friends out of the house, because she isn’t sure who to trust.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Of course, Buffy’s Land is more awesome than awful when she becomes the chosen one. Sure, she has to give up any career aspirations and certain hotties to protect the known world, but she kicks butt and looks great doing it! Most of the movie and TV series involves Buffy leveling up and saving the day. She’s not without scars, but all told, she’s still a superhero. This phase ends with the Big Bad fight, which is the last movie fight or closing the Hellmouth at Sunnydale.
- Carrie: Even Carrie’s land is more awesome than awful as she learns how to control her powers. She gains confidence and even stands up to her mother to go to prom with a boy. But her peers still hate her. Awful rears its ugly head when she gets pig blood dumped on her right after she’s crowned prom queen.
“Homeward Bound” is practically non-existent in horror stories, because there is usually no home left. In most genres, heroes go home, but it’s not the same. Here, you just can’t go home again.
- Scream: After the killers reveal their identity, Sidney escapes them and calls the cops. Then she wears the costume, becoming Ghostface, and murdering them both–one by TV electrocution and the other by head shot. Sidney had to become evil in order to fight for good. The rest of the franchise explores her altered character.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: After Buffy kills the Big Bad and blows up Sunnydale, she must leave. In the movie, she rides off into the sunset (and ends up in Sunnydale). In the TV show, she moves to Rome. It is physically impossible for her to go home again.
- Carrie: When Carrie is dowsed in blood, she believes everyone is culpable, even the bystanders, so she kills them all. We empathize with her experience, but we also know her response is overkill (ha). In the movie, she dies when her house collapses on her. Again, the home is gone, and Carrie is too.
I didn’t do justice to all the fantastic women of horror (I could add to this post for years).
Which scream queen do you love? How does she challenge or extend these aspects of the hero’s journey in horror?
About Jennifer Brinkmeyer