Fight Back: The Hills Have Eyes

The Hills Have Eyes (2006 film)

The Hills Have Eyes (2006 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello, reader. If you’re here now, months after I posted this initially, it means you found this post via search engine. I see the terms that lead here, and one I see more and more often is “Hills Have Eyes sex scene.” If that’s how you found this post, know that there ARE no sex scenes in that film. There is a rape scene. Rape is not sex. It is violence. It’s not consensual. It’s a violation. Read on, but perhaps question your definition of sex and why you would apply a benign word to a horrific act. You’ll find no glorification of rape here.

This month, Spouse and I are watching a horror movie a day (or he is, and I join in when I can). Last night was Hocus Pocus, and tonight we watched The Hills Have Eyes.

I can handle a lot of gore and violence in movies. I grew up on R.L. Stine and his descriptions of purple rotting flesh and bodies swinging like pendulums from ceilings. All the decaying cheerleaders and crazed sisters poisoning each other. I can take a lot of it before it gives me a wiggins.

But there is one thing that got old long ago, and that’s seeing women in horror movies get raped.

A lot of films do it for shock value. I suspect most of the world’s sane people don’t wake up in the morning and think, “Gee, you know what my life is missing? Victimised women.”

(Short disclaimer, anyone to leave an insensitive comment like, “Oh, I sure do!” even in jest will have their comment deleted and will lose 10,000 points of my esteem. These things aren’t funny, and I’ve heard a couple lately. This is not the forum for rape jokes of any kind. ANY AND ALL rape jokes or insensitive comments on this particular subject are not welcome out of respect for my readers, who trust me not to get more triggery than necessary.)

Wes Craven films, as my friend the Mad Gay Man pointed out, often do show women fighting back. In the Scream franchise, Sidney has some badassery skills to be sure, and there are counterexamples to this trope.

Counterexamples do not lessen the effects, the severity, or the wrongness of this trope’s prevalence in the horror genre, even if they aren’t propagating it themselves.

The Hills Have Eyes had one of the most protracted and disturbing rape scenes that I’ve come across in a film. If you don’t want to read the next paragraph, skip it. It triggered me a bit writing it. Be warned.

The youngest female character, Brenda, is sleeping in the family’s stranded trailer when a mutant comes in. Her entire family is watching her father burn to death while the mutant wakes her, terrorises her, and tries to rape her until another mutant arrives. This whole scene seemed to take ten minutes, and it very well might have. The other mutant proceeds to rape Brenda himself. Her sister comes in (FINALLY), only to have her sister’s rapist point a gun at her baby to coerce her into holding still for him while he fondles her and his friend fondles Brenda.

What was worst about all of it was the way Brenda was ignored after what happened to her.

Her mother and sister and father are dead, but her brother and brother-in-law completely ignore Brenda’s existence as she sobs, traumatised in the trailer. Then she’s treated as hysterical by the men.

I’m not sure the last time I was so disgusted by the portrayal of women in film. At one point I yelled at the screen, “Every single woman so far is a fucking victim! Fight back already!”

The reason things like this bother me so much has less to do with my own experience with sexual violence and more with the continuing acceptance of images like this in pop culture. What was shocking wasn’t necessarily that Brenda was brutalised — though I found it intensely disturbing throughout the entire, drawn-out ordeal — but the way her ordeal was subsequently minimised.

As long as Hollywood continues to perpetuate these images, people will be used to seeing women as victims. As a rape survivor, I take that to heart.

Seanan McGuire wrote a very poignant post last week after a commenter had the gall to ask when (not if, mind you, note the definitive certainty) her characters would be raped.

That anyone would even ask that question phrased that way only illustrates what I’m saying: we’re so used to seeing women victimised, abused, sexually assaulted, and violated, that it has become an inevitability. An expectation.

This is why I’ve been hosting the #SuperWomen Live Chats. Because what the world needs isn’t more damseling, and I could do without seeing another Brenda scene as long as I live. What the world needs to see is women being women.

Women are not spineless weaklings incapable of defending ourselves. We’re not hysterical shrews. The kitchen is not our natural habitat, and we don’t have to have children if we don’t want them. Women are capable of extraordinary things. Women are strong. Women are powerful. Women overcome — and not only after being victimised.

Our insecurities aren’t always about our looks or our weight, and being sexually attractive does not indicate a desire to be groped, grabbed, or hit on.

If we’re going to see less Brenda situations and more SuperWomen, it starts with the creatives. It starts with you, and it starts with me. It starts with people like Joss Whedon and Marti Noxon and Jane Espenson, and it starts with all of us who create media making a conscious effort to build exceptional stories with women and men portrayed as equals.

If you think media can’t have an effect, look at how Will and Grace and Ellen DeGeneres started shifting the cultural attitudes of an entire generation. Seeing gay people, both fictional and in real life, and putting faces in the place of labels — it has a far-reaching and powerful effect.

By creating culture that doesn’t victimise women, by showing the strength and ingenuity of women in film, art, literature, and music — we can change the way the world sees women.

This is my challenge to every creative to stop by this blog entry: look critically at your own work. Ask yourself how you have portrayed women, even subconsciously, throughout your stories.

I will admit, when I first read Seanan McGuire’s post, I felt tremendously guilty for a scene involving attempted rape in my novel. I’ve been contemplating its worthiness ever since. The rapist doesn’t succeed because my female superhero stops him, but even so — I have wondered if I could have developed this another way. I’m not exempt from my own admonition, and this topic has caused me to change WIPs because of certain themes in the adult dystopian I had planned to write this autumn.

After watching The Hills Have Eyes tonight, I have bitterness in my throat. Creatives, we’re better than that. Our characters deserve better than that. Challenge them, push them, conflict them — but it’s not always necessary to violate them.

What are your thoughts on this subject? 


About Emmie Mears

Saving the world from brooding, one self-actualized vampire at a time.

Posted on October 6, 2012, in Film Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. I agree whole-heartedly. Few violent films bother me, but I hate watching rape scenes, and the more realistic, the harder to watch. (Noomi Rapace in Dragon Tattoo? Horrific scene.) Granted more things bother me now than before I had a child (like when kids get killed in films), but even still, rape scenes are almost always triggers. Did you see the “I Spit on Your Grave” remake???

    • Yeah, GWTDT was pretty tough. Guh. It was even tougher for me to read in the book.

      I never saw the “I Spit on Your Grave” remake. I’ll ask my husband if he’s seen it. If he knows there’s a rape scene in a movie, he’ll often give me a heads up so I’m not blindsided by it. Oddly, I watch them and don’t turn away out of a need to know what the world is seeing. One movie I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch is Last House On The Left — just from the hearsay, I think that would be rough on me. But it’s October, and Spouse is committed to watching a horror movie a day, so it might happen.

  2. Good blog Emmie.. Though to take it a step further, I think people in general tend to act like victims. I don’t know how many real life crimes I’ve read about where a single gunman with a pistol or knife held a dozen or more people hostage, then proceeded to kill several of them while no on so much as attempted to get away or fight back. Not saying I know what I would do in a given situation, but I know I would assess the situation and try to figure out some course of action. As a society we have been plagued with this sort of victim mentality that once someone plans to harm us, the best thing to do is cooperate, let it happen and hope for the best, or maybe the police or Spiderman will show up and rescue us.

    Best thing is always be able to protect yourself. When I was at the Dr. yesterday getting my wrist fixed, the x-rat tech was a tiny girl asking me how I hurt it. I told her about Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. She thought she’d be too small to learn any of that, but I told her BJJ was designed just for small people in overcoming larger aggressors. I invited her to come to our Dojo for a free class. Not sure if she will, but it is amazing how many people out there still feel helpless due to their size or gender.

  3. Organize! I love this call to action and answer it wholeheartedly!

  4. Rape is akin to outright torture, the worsening of gratuitous violence. If more men were subject to rape we wouldn’t see it as often in films or other stories.

  5. This is why we love Joss. Have you seen Cabin in the Woods yet? You’d best add it to your month’s list.

  6. Hi, Emmie!
    There’s really a sort of culture associated with rape, but I think it’s not just ‘victime culture’ on the side of the rapped, on the side of the rapers its different, it’s more ‘animal culture’: sex is associated with ‘animality’, whether it’s a priest who’s talking – from most religions – a simple believer, or even an atheist. And they are half right, we share that with animals, as much as reproduction.
    But we’re humans, and we have been able to evolve from animality in many ways. Yet sex still continues to be hard to handle, lots of people aren’t able to tell the difference from kissing a friend’s cheek or intercourse: it’s all sex. Even the ‘normal’ do suffer from the same disease: if it’s sex, ok, then your out of control, whatever happens it’s sex.
    There are many forms of ‘violence’, for example if someone’s boyfriend ‘talks her’ to have sex when she’s in her period and she didn’t want to but finally agree, would you call that rape? But she didn’t wanted, she didn’t like, she had no idea he would ‘talk her to’, but he did it, and so did she, victim.
    I think the two cultures go side by side: the victim and the predator. Even so-called ‘normal’ persons make strange things: why slapping a woman’s butt and feel it ‘sexy’? And why some women get slapped in their buts and feel it ‘sexy’, too? Why the f*** (literally speaking) do people mingle sex and violence? That’s a common thing, as much as it – still – is common to mingle sex and reproduction.
    The notion of sex has gradually evolved so now lots of people accept love – and sex – between people of the same gender, or between elderly people – how many times old folks were and are treated as ‘preverts’ just because they fell in love over 70 or 80 in some Institution where their children or grandchildren dropped them? And yet probably they won’t even be able to try it, least to say do it, it’s just love and affection.

    Our societies can’t tell the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘brutal animal sex behaviour’, which has to do with the specific ways animals live, acknowledge their environment and each other, and they have sex more or less like they eat, ‘buzz off, I got here first’. I don’t think animals are capable of tenderness during sex. After, with their mates, their offspring, each other, yes, but sex AND tenderness are different for them. It’s their WAY OF BEING, not just of having sex, and their whole lives are violent to some extent when they are free in their natural habitats.

    We humans are capable not just of the ultimate tantric passionnate love-making but also of a tender touch, a loving word before, during, and after sex, and that shows we are human. Even in ‘primitive’ societies the struggle for a mate is just that, a struggle: let the woman pick up the best dancer, fisherman, or weaver.

    The problem lies also there, I think, people don’t look at human sex as HUMAN sex but as something else, depending of the way we’re educated, but the results are the same: it ends up associated to violence into some degree. Add a disturbed mind or disturbed hormones and you end up with a street rapist or a ‘nice guy’ who pours something in your glass at the Disco, or ‘takes you home’ when you’re too drunk to stand. For me they’re both rapists, as much as priests or politicians who dismiss the facts but did the same in their youth.

    You’re right Emmie, creatives CAN make the difference because you dwell in a most important and still most unexplored habitat, the imagination, feelings, fears, values, common notions, expectations, wounds and sorrows of humans. Novels to some extent mirror society? Society is violent? Ok, one thing is mentioning violence, another is describing violence. I’m not a moralist, but I agree some scenes both in novels and movies are, in themselves, A FORM OF VIOLENCE.

    Emmie, if I ever read a rape or a slap-in-the-butt scene in anything written by you, well, with some luck you’ll receive the Slap in the Blog Award.

    Regards, Emmie


    • Rape is a violent act, even if the victim is drugged. You’re right. Rape is rape, whether the perpetrator drugs the victim or subdues her/him violently or holds a gun to the victim’s head.

      I do think that violence can serve a purpose in literature — even graphic violence. What I have a problem with is that the vast majority of the horror films I’ve seen use one brush to paint women: the victim brush.

      They need more brushes.

      Creatives often approach sexual violence from different angles. I have a problem with the “Shock Value” angle, which uses rape and sexual violence in general because both are such uncomfortable subjects. Some writers, like urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire, refuse to write rape scenes because it triggers their own memories. She’s mentioned briefly that she is a survivor of rape, and she doesn’t want to write it. That’s more than fine. Some other authors depict it to transcend the victim mentality, whether that means the victim getting revenge (Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) or the rape or attempted rape catalysing character growth (like in the book — not the film — Jumper, which depicted an attempted rape of the male protagonist and was how he really discovered his power to teleport).

      I’m also a rape survivor, and in my newest book there are two-ish scenes of sexual violence. One is an attempted rape, which my protagonist stops by herself (a catalyst for her realising her own power and strength) and the second is a medical exam against her will, which she chooses to endure (even though she could escape) in order to gain information about her condition and her enemies’ plans. Both were written in a way that I did not intend to be gratuitous — both served a purpose for advancing the growth of my characters and development of the story. Seanan McGuire doesn’t want to write those scenes, and that’s how she deals. That’s her prerogative. For me, it helps me to see survivors of violence overcoming, and that’s why I occasionally write those scenes. It’s not about showcasing terror: it’s about the strength of my characters to overcome.

      I do think that violence in all its forms can have a place in literature (if not, we’d be out almost ever book/film/play ever written), but my point is always that it must serve a greater purpose, and everyone is comfortable with different levels of description. To date, the most disturbing and graphic film I’ve seen is a French film, Inside. It’s incredibly violent and frightening, but through all of it, the film raises questions about love and sacrifice and human sanity. It’s a fascinating film, but not one for people who are uncomfortable with graphic violence.

  7. I couldn’t watch this film to the end. It was sick and disturbing.

  8. I found something rather relevant. Someone complied a nice list of 13 horror films without sexual violence.

  9. Emmie, you are an amazing woman…I agree completly with you…And do not watch the last house on the left…it is intense and though the young girl doesn’t fight back, she is a fighter and her loved one’s soooo fight back for her…

    • I actually watched that last night knowing what I was getting into. Although (and my husband struggled through it as well), we somehow had the unrated version in which that rape scene was WAY longer than he remembered it. I thought Mari did fight back as much as she could trying to face down four hostile people. Immediately after he stood up, she sneaked a rock into her hand, mumbled something to throw them off, and then bashed Krug’s head with the rock and got away. We watched the remake, so she even got to live. I won’t be watching the original most likely.

      And MAN, her parents. Her mum especially, taking on Francis and shooting Sadie. I was surprised that I actually really liked the movie, but the rape scene is still too outrageously graphic and protracted for me. Totally unnecessary to have it be as long as that. Now I’m thinking of the actors filming scenes like that and having a lot of thoughts. Guh. I remember reading an interview with James Marsters about the attempted rape scene in Buffy and how much it disturbed him having to act in that scene. Why put the actors through such an emotional ordeal as well? If the scenes are there gratuitously, it upsets me on many levels.

  10. I too was suprised that I liked Last House. I thought it would be gratuituous and nasty. Other than the prolonged rape scene, I liked how everyone pretty much fought back and each of the rapists each got theirs.

    I Spit on Your Grave isn’t too much different. Except the victim gets her own revenge with no help….and the stuff she does to her rapists is pretty awful in itself. Yet, you find yourself cheering her on because of what they did to her and how brazen they were about it.

  11. I’m tired of the victim mentality myself. There is a rape scene in one of my WIPs, but she does fight back. Trying to work that balance with the scene to where it doesn’t veer off into unnecessary land is rather a challenge. But I do agree that those types of scenes should be used for a purpose, rather than the scene filler it seems to be these days. I jokingly said that I was too young for GWTDT when I watched the movie, but at least they had purpose.

    I’m so damn tired of damsels in distress. Women do not act like that.

  12. way late – just found your blog.

    first, let me say in all seriousness and NOT JOKING – i think there ARE people who wake up and think exactly that. not many, but they’re loud, and they have power, and they have an inordinate amount of sway over our culture. our messed-up-needs-to-be-fixed-in-so-many-ways-rape-culture…

    second – as a woman who was raped [at age 12, and blamed by everyone who knew about it, because it was OBVIOUSLY my fault because i “look like that”] i have to say – attempted rapes that fail because the woman STOPPED IT HERSELF – those? are awesome. that may just be me, though, i don’t know – but i CHEER.

    so now i’m going to go and find examples of your work, because of this post, and i’ll be around your blog sometimes, because of this post. this was a GOOD post. thank you. a LOT. *THIS* much!

    • Oh goodness. What a lovely comment. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and for taking the time to write a response. I agree with you a bazillion percent — in the instances where women stop attempted rapes from becoming rape, I have to sit back and mentally applaud and cry a little because they did what I couldn’t.

      I wish I could point you toward a bookshelf with my fiction on it; unfortunately, that’ll have to wait a bit. I do have some flash fiction under the Fiction tab on the nav bar. For now the blog’s my little window into the world. And it’s people like you who make me want to keep doing it. So THANK YOU.

      Also, it’s my birthday, and thoughtful comments make great presents. 😀 So thanks again!

  13. well! eh-hem, family tradition:
    Hippo birdie two ewes!
    Hippo birdie two ewes!
    Hippo birdie deer ewe!
    Hippo birdie two ewes!
    [and lots of bacon!]

    ok, birthday formality aside – i don’t know if that was, necessary, a “thoughtful” comment. it was actually just short of a rage/rant-comment [not at you! at the world in general… you wrote a very perceptive blog post about the thing that causes me to wish to rage/rant] but i’m glad you found it nice 🙂 i’ve got the front of your blog open in another tab, so i’ll be commenting on something newer soon probably, because i’ve decided if i can’t have any fiction from you [yet!] i’ll just have to haunt your blog.

    because my thoughts, you are writing them! in articulate and sensible ways! i always end-up at what certain of my friends call THE ALLCAPS OF JUSTICE RANTING AND RAGING [no, really – i’ll get sent a something with the line “here, Den, can we PLEASE get an ALLCAPS OF JUSTICE RANT on this? kthnxbai!” because… that’s what i do? le sigh] and you are AWESOME for being ABLE to be articulate and sensible about this absolute shite.

    [now, if you’d just put on a bikini and stilettos, and learn to dislocate your back and hips while doing you, you too can be a SuperHeroine!]

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