He Screams, She Screams, We All Scream for Gender Equality in Our Slasher Villains: How 'Scre4m' Broke the Bechdel Test
Since probably the mid-2000s the Bechdel test has become a common term and earns discussion in everything from English 101 courses to The Simpsons...
The test consists of three simple rules which determines if the film in question incorporates a strong female presence as well as the overall inclusion of women in the thought process behind the movie. To earn a “pass” on this assessment the movie must contain (1) two female characters with names, (2) these two women must converse with each other, and (3) the conversation cannot discuss a man. Obviously, some movies find ways around these rules by not naming the main characters (Once) or only having two characters in the film (Gravity), but I want to discuss another loophole and this one is pretty specific to horror, specifically the slasher subgenre.
When two female characters, let’s say Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) discuss the killer in Scre4m using the masculine pronoun, they then earn a “fail” in the eyes of Bechdel. But now this is where the loophole comes into play. What if at the end of the movie the killer reveals themselves to be none other than Sidney’s cousin Jill Roberts (Emma Roberts)? Therefore, any previous discussion about the killer no longer counts as “talking about a man.” The killer girl twist creates a flaw in the Bechdel test, but a surprise ending of an unassumed female character is not unique to the latest Scream film and has appeared previously in horror. Even in the same franchise, when Mrs. Loomis donned the mask in Scream 2. Other notable films include yet another vengeful mommy with Mrs. Vorhees in the first installment of Friday the 13th. Or the less common use of a ‘presumed female killer who later turns out to be male’ occurs in the under-appreciated Cherry Falls. But probably one of the most iconic misleading gender labeling goes to Anthony Perkins as the deranged Norman Bates in Psycho. In fact, let’s call this ‘cheat sheet’ for the Bechdel test the Perkins Loophole.
Throughout Scre4m, the returning characters of Sidney, Gale, and Dewey (David Arquette), along with a whole new generation of suspects stumble their way through knife-wielding attacks and struggle once again to solve the mystery before the killer eventually reveals themselves in the final sequence. Leading up to the discovery of the murderer, masculine pronouns get thrown around quite a bit with little thought to who hides behind the mask. In Scream 2, the characters (especially Dewey) make comments about how the killer could be “killers” and frequently interrupt heated speculations about the murderer in order to include the female pronoun in the discussion (obviously hinting towards the reveal of Mrs. Loomis at the end of the film). The only clue Scre4m provides to let the audience know the characters wrongfully assume the gender comes in a subtle way when we learn one of the cops on Sidney-duty is named Anthony Perkins. Hence another reason for naming the limitation to the Bechdel Test the Perkins Loophole.
At the start of Scre4m the trio of female friends Jill, Olivia, and Kirby believe ex-boyfriend Trevor made the calls and therefore refer to the killer in the masculine, but when they discover the boy’s innocence, gender neutral terms such as “The Killer” and “Ghostface” take the place of “he”. While at the police station, the Scream veteran characters as well as the newest victims avoid gendering the baddie, most likely because they still all remember the plot twist at the end of Scream 2/Stab 2. However, not much later in the movie the less-woke police officers start throwing around the male pronouns in reference to the killer and suddenly everyone becomes convinced a man now poses as Ghostface.
And while it may seem the characters are not entirely wrong in the use of the “he” and “him” because Jill’s male accomplice Charlie Walker (Rory Caulkin) does his fair share of damage, solely using the male pronoun removes any acknowledgement of the murderous cousin. One scene (which definitely fits into the Perkins Loophole) involves Sidney and her aunt Kate (Jill’s mother) at the Robert’s household. After receiving a call from Ghostface, Sidney tells Kate “he’s coming after me…but he wants my family first.” The conversation ends abruptly with the murder of Kate, but prior to her death the dialogue establishes both characters’ assumption about the gender of the killer, and also classifies the topic as ‘about a man.’ However, later in the film Jill admits she planned and committed the murder of her mother, therefore making Jill the actual topic of Kate’s last words.
Scre4m premiered ten years ago and even though a gender-reveal ending occurred in Scream 2, it took only 13 years for the inhabitants of Woodsboro to forget Ghostface is not a gender exclusive role. Perhaps the letdown of Scr3am with its singular male killer erased the original plot and the sequel from the minds of Woodsboro. So, how does the Perkins loophole affect the outcome of Bechdel’s film evaluation? Should assumed genders really determine the movie’s ability to pass the test? Or must the reveal of the killer be taken into consideration? What about in the unique case of Scre4m (and Scream 2) where we are never quite sure which killer was responsible for which deaths? Perhaps the next Scream film (Scream 5? 5cream? $cre@m?) will stray from the assumption of male killers and simply accept Ghostface encompasses all genders.
By Amylou Ahava