Horror Hour: Challenging the Male Gaze and Embracing Feminist Revenge in ‘Jennifer’s Body’

A drawing of Carrie from “Carrie” and Jennifer from “Jennifer’s Body,” surrounded by blood spatters.
(Bella Pettengill • The Student Life)

In 1976, MGM Studios produced a film adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel “Carrie. The movie was a box-office hit, garnering over $33 million in revenue, earning critical acclaim and securing nominations from both the Academy and the Golden Globe Awards. Today, the film maintains a score of 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and stands as one of the most influential horror movies of all time. “Carrie” brought the sub-genre of female revenge into the mainstream.

Nearly 30 years after its release, Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody directed the iconic cult-classic “Jennifer’s Body” (2009). In the film, up-and-coming indie rock band Low Shoulder attempts to murder high school student and local mean girl Jennifer (Megan Fox) as a virginal sacrifice to Satan for success in the music industry. However, Jennifer is not actually a virgin and instead becomes possessed by a demonic spirit. Until a final confrontation with her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried), Jennifer embarks on a bloodthirsty quest to devour the school’s male population.

Despite having a similar female revenge story to “Carrie,” “Jennifer’s Body” faced extreme criticism when the movie was released in theaters. In his 2009 review for the Guardian, Ben Child said, “half the man-flesh she tucks into belongs to perfectly decent young lads who you end up feeling pretty sorry for” and “surely if there were some feminist subtext to the whole thing, it would have made sense to make the victims awful high-school jocks who deserve everything they get.” Robert Abele at The Los Angeles Times wrote, “‘Jennifer’s Body’ held promise, but it’s decidedly more self-possessed than possessed.”

The onslaught of negative reviews can be attributed to the failure of the film’s marketing campaign. “Jennifer’s Body” was depicted as a hyper-sexual scary movie that catered to the male gaze. Fox’s performance was only considered as valuable as her appearance. However, when young male audiences packed theaters anticipating a sexy slasher, they were left sorely disappointed.

“The onslaught of negative reviews can be attributed to the failure of the film’s marketing campaign. “Jennifer’s Body” was depicted as a hyper-sexual scary movie that catered to the male gaze,” she writes. “ead, “Jennifer’s Body” is a distinctly feminist film.”

Instead, “Jennifer’s Body” is a distinctly feminist film. Writing for Vox, Constance Grady interpreted the sacrifice of Jennifer as a symbol of sexual assault, in which a group of men use Jennifer’s body and exploit her torment as a means of professional advancement and bonding.

Through this lens, Jennifer’s murder spree may actually be a strategic weaponization of her sexualization and an act of resistance against the same patriarchal factors that initially subjugated her. In an interview, Fox even said “Jennifer’s Body” was a reflection of her treatment in the film and media industry. Thus, it appears that the film is a revenge fantasy rather than a sexual one.

In fact, the film even directly opposes the sexualization of Fox by embracing the bloody, disgusting and gorey elements of abject horror which led critics like Anderson Wright at The Student Life to say, “Most people do find Megan Fox attractive, but probably not while she projectile vomits black venom after tearing through a Boston Market turkey leg with her bare hands” and “Kusama is unable to properly place Fox in situations that accentuate her looks.”

In the years following “Jennifer’s Body, similar female revenge stories like “Ma” and “Carrie” (2013) received abysmal criticism. Yet, there seems to be a revival in the interest of female revenge stories in the last couple of years with hit horror flicks “X” and “Pearl. In the present day, film bros around the world have even begun to appreciate and understand the appeal of “Jennifer’s Body” as a unique feminist horror film. If you’re a fan of the subversive, the abject and the controversial, “Jennifer’s Body” might be for you.

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