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When women become the antagonists in horror films

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

It's nearly Halloween. For many people, that means it is peak horror movie binging season. In recent years, we have had ALL THINGS CONSIDERED producers on the show around this time of year to talk about horror movies and to recommend some to us. And today, we have producer Brianna Scott, who loves horror in a way that I truly just cannot understand. Hey, Bri.

BRIANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: Hey.

DETROW: One of our first conversations was about this. I truly hate horror movies.

SCOTT: Yes.

DETROW: You love them. You love them so much that you have a Michael Myers tattoo.

SCOTT: I do. It's on my leg.

DETROW: What, for you, is the appeal of this genre?

SCOTT: What I love about horror is the shared universal experience so many of us have while watching it - that terror, that dread, being on the edge of your seat, your heart racing. And I respect why a lot of people, like yourself, don't like horror movies.

DETROW: I respect it. I just don't choose to sit through them.

SCOTT: You don't want to put yourself through that trauma.

DETROW: It's too much.

SCOTT: But I do.

DETROW: OK.

SCOTT: And I love horror because it can evoke so many emotions other than fear and terror. Some horror is dramatic and comedic, and I just love that the genre is so versatile.

DETROW: We were thinking about what kinds of horror movies we wanted to highlight, and you had a really interesting idea. You wanted to focus on films where women do the killing. Why do you want to talk about that?

SCOTT: Yeah. I mean, women are the ones usually being killed in horror movies. And so I wanted to talk about women in horror who are the antagonist because there's usually a story as to why.

DETROW: So spoiler alert for everything going forward. What is the first movie that you want to talk about?

SCOTT: Yeah. So the first film I want to discuss is "The Faculty." It's a horror sci-fi creature film. So the plot of this film is that the faculty at the high school are being infected by an alien parasite that is changing their personalities.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FACULTY")

LAURA HARRIS: (As Marybeth Louise Hutchinson) I'm Marybeth Louise Hutchinson. I really love what you've done with your nose ring. It really brings out the color in your eyes.

SCOTT: Marybeth is this character who comes off a little bit annoyingly sweet and innocent. She's accepting of everyone that she comes across at the school, no matter how different they are or how ostracized they are at the school. And that's basically part of her motivation for spreading the infection. You know, high school is such a weird time where a lot of teens feel alone, alienated - no pun intended - different, weird. They don't feel accepted or that people understand who they are.

DETROW: What movie is up next?

SCOTT: Yeah. So the next movie I want to talk about is "Pearl," which is the second installment in what is a trilogy by Ti West. And Pearl, the name of our movie, is also our killer.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PEARL")

MIA GOTH: (As Pearl) I'm not staying on this farm. Nothing's going to keep me here.

SCOTT: Pearl is stuck on this farm with her overbearing mother and her father, who is ill. And all Pearl wants to do is get off this farm. She wants to go off and be a big movie star. And that's basically what she fantasizes about all day. And the emotional and physical neglect that Pearl faces, the invalidation she suffers from her mother, it all culminates in Pearl cracking.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PEARL")

GOTH: (As Pearl) Please, I'm a star.

SCOTT: But the thing is, Pearl doesn't just want to be famous and be a star. She wants to be accepted. She ultimately wants to be loved, even if she's looking in all the wrong places.

DETROW: So this last one, I was excited to hear 'cause I know it. I've heard of it - "Fear Street" because it's by Mr. R.L. Stine of "Goosebumps" fame.

SCOTT: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FEAR STREET: PART THREE - 1666")

KIANA MADEIRA: (As Sarah Fier) The truth shall be your curse.

SCOTT: Absolutely, yes. "Fear Street" is a full trilogy that was dropped on Netflix in 2021. We spend pretty much those first two movies under the impression that Sarah Fier is truly our antagonist.

DETROW: Yeah.

SCOTT: But in the last film, it's revealed to us that Sarah Fier is actually kind of a hero. She was hanged. This was kind of back during the - kind of like the Salem witch trial days - for being a witch. But she was also seen as a witch because she was queer. She was, you know, quote-unquote, "different."

DETROW: Yeah.

SCOTT: And so what I love about "Fear Street" is the fact that it really is kind of an empowering series for queer women in particular. Sarah Fier stayed true to herself until the very end, even when she was hung. And because of that, eventually she finally gets to reclaim her truth.

DETROW: So what do you think connects these three films, and how do you think that's different from most horror movies in your mind?

SCOTT: Well, let's kind of go back to the beginning with my Michael Myers tattoo. Michael Myers had no backstory in that first film. He was just killing to kill. And that is kind of typically how a lot of horror is. It's changing, I think, nowadays. But usually the killers don't really have any motive or kind of lack substance, in my mind.

DETROW: Yeah.

SCOTT: And so when it comes to women in horror films who are the antagonists, I'll put a spin on a quote from Randy Meeks in "Scream," motives are not incidental for women. I don't condone the violence. I want to make that clear. What I'm saying is that with all the movies that we talked about, what they all have in common is that we're talking about acceptance, being yourself, living your truth and being loved for it. And that is something that I can get behind.

DETROW: ALL THINGS CONSIDERED producer Brianna Scott, thanks for talking horror movies with me.

SCOTT: Thank you. Happy Halloween.

DETROW: You too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brianna Scott is currently a producer at the Consider This podcast.