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bitches, bimbos and virgins revised

 

BITCHES, BIMBOS
AND VIRGINS

205 pages, 8.25 x 10.5, $25.00
Sale Price $15.00

Introduction to BITCHES, BIMBOS
AND VIRGINS
 


Bitches, Bimbos and Virgins!...Oh my!
To many, this may sound like an exploitative title, a book that caters to prurient tastes and features cheesecake photographs of pseudo-actresses from direct-to-video basement/bedroom productions. Those so-called Scream Queens.
But this is not that type of book
No, Bitches, Bimbos and Virgins is the history of women in the horror cinema, profiling their evolution from coffee maker to scientist, from seductress and victim to kick ass heroine, and finally detailing their emergence as well-drawn characters who play important roles in horror movie history—past, present and future.
And don't expect this history to be definitive, stuffy nor academic, for the history of women in horror cinema should be as enjoyable to read as it is to watch. A fun read with plenty of photos! But also, at the same time, it must remain both an intelligent analysis with controversy and food for thought, while remaining well documented and carefully researched. This volume, I trust, meets all these requirements.
Simply stated, horror films provided meaty roles and made stars out of male icons such as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, Lon Chaney, Jr., Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee—their roles include unsavory anemic royalty with questionable origins and unquenchable appetites, doctors with mad imaginations harvesting dreams of gods and monsters, grotesque creatures with criminal brains but innocent souls, flamboyant maniacs with well-carved personalities and periodic lapses in good taste and cruelly ravished artists whose well-plotted revenge remains their only motive for being. Such characters stalked movie houses for decades.
But what of the women?
Generally, women's roles were subservient, underwritten, colorless, unimaginative, predictable and demeaning. Women were depicted as beautiful window dressing on the arms of more recognizable male stars. Women often became screaming, panicking and frightened victims, who were bitten, stab bed, sliced, crushed, beaten, throttled, shot or pushed off cliffs. Or, women became nasty seductresses luring both innocent and not-so-innocent male victims to their doom because of their sexual charms. In horror/monster movies of the 1950s, they might be scientists or curvy companions to the male heroes, but most likely they would be powdering their faces at the office, answering the phone and taking messages, or fixing the best cup of coffee available in town. Women were written into scripts almost begrudgingly, almost as if they had to occupy secondary roles in a male dominated universe, someone for the monster to threaten and the hero to save. As young children we always used the "gooey love scene" required in every horror film as our excuse to go to the bathroom or run to the concession stand. During those missing few minutes we knew nothing of note would transpire. Writers, producers and directors drew the same conclusions.
But in spite of such predictability in female roles throughout the history of horror movies, something profound occurred. Many female actresses rose above the standard listless scripts and slapdash productions to create memorable characterizations that broke free of stereotypes and created performances that rank right up there with the substantial male roles. True, such well-written and well-acted roles are exceptions to the norm, but they cannot be denied nor ignored.
During the decade of the 1930s, such exceptional talents as Zita Johann, the tragically doomed reincarnated Egyptian Princess of the past, who once again in the present denies her love for the persistent Boris Karloff in The Mummy, proves that female love-interests could be beautiful, tortured, strong and enigmatic, worthy to share the screen with icon Karloff and hold their own in the acting department. Also in 1932, Miriam Hopkins, playing the lower-class seductress ivy in Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, proves that a well-drawn female character could be both sexy and manipulative and also tragic and sad in a complex performance that becomes so much more than mere window dressing.
During the decade of the 1940s, the Val Lewton RKO B-feature unit created most of the outstanding female horror film performances of the decade. Simone Simon was more than a sex kitten in Cat People, but she is both aggressive, manipulative and defensive while also being tragically doomed, vulnerable and caught between a world of wanton passion and respectable sexual restraint. Hers was a character cut from original fibers and sewn into a patchwork that displays the full complexity of femininity during this era. Other notable Lewton females include the teaming of Jean Brooks and Kim Hunter, who portray opposing sisters, in the darkly pessimistic The Seventh Victim, featuring a young innocent's bravery in leaving her boarding school cocoon to venture forth to the sinful New York cityscape to find her doomed sister, a cutting-edge character, who gets involved in a Satanic cult sworn to secrecy. Such opposites become more and more similar as their determination and courage mold them into original and memorable characters that demand the viewers' attention. Such plumb roles are the norm rather than the exception in the universe of Val Lewton.
Women retrogressed during the 1950s settling down into comfortable stereotypes: the prim and proper asexual scientist, the sexually alluring but all-business assistant/secretary/scientist's daughter, the cheap tramp barfly, the bored and boozed-out rich bitch wife, the alluring space babe whose all female civilization is invaded by men, the screaming and kicking monster victim, the "other woman" of the sordid triangle affair, etc. Very few juicy and innovative female roles appear during this decade.
But by the late '60s and throughout the '70s (due in part to the feminist movement) prominent female roles re-emerged, characterizations written that allow women to break free from stereotypes and becaome assertive, intelligent, and equal companions to the men with whom they share the screen. Characters such as Princess Leia (from Star Wars), Ripley (from the Alien series) created the new sub-genre of "kick ass" heroines who now fill the shoes formally inhibited solely by males. And this evolution of women's roles in horror cinema continues to this day.
Unlike film noir and detective/suspense cinema, women are generally not respected in the horror film genre. Not because of any lack of talent involved, but because of the limitations placed upon the film genre by the studios and screenwriter. Yet this book exists to document those starting exceptions, to illustrate the evolution of women's roles in the horror film genre, and to show that even within the narrow artistic limits that women's charactererizations and performances could still impress and rise above the mediocre.
In no way is Bitches, Bimbos, and Virgins a mocking of the extraordinary work delivered by the women in the horror movies throughout the decades, it is instead a long overdue tribute ti their often neglected work-film that cries out to be recognized. And pay triubute we do!
—Gary J. Svehla

bitches, bimbos ,virgins

bitches, bimbos, virgins