Make Sure She’s Pure: Virginity and Blackmail in The Monster Squad
This past weekend, I couldn’t decide if I was in the mood for something scary or something funny. I was browsing on Netflix and found 1987’s The Monster Squad. Quick backstory: the first time I saw this was in early 1988 on HBO, and the first five minutes scared 7-year-old me (I’ve officially dated myself) in part because I had just discovered Bram Stoker’s Dracula on the sly and had been keeping myself up at night with that one (for the record, I was fine once I got over that five-minute hump, and the exposure to harder horror began shortly thereafter). This one has some memories for me, so I threw it on. Aside from the offensive 1980s tropes (really, why do we need to rip on the heavier kid?), I found myself snapping to attention at the notion of virginity. Particularly female virginity and sexual blackmail. I couldn’t tell what pissed me off more: the fact that female virginity was the only virginity for the job, or that a teenage girl was blackmailed into a performance before being asked to prove sexual “purity.”
|Behind that light-hearted 80s comedy facade…|
Let’s start with some semantics. At no point in any of the rituals (or discussions of the rituals) is the need for a female virgin specified – it is only stated that a virgin must read the passage in German in order to open the portal to limbo. Now, let’s be perfectly frank: finding a virginal, geeky teenager is not problematic, regardless of gender. I’d be willing to wager that a group of junior high students obsessed with monsters would fall firmly into this category (we smell our own). However, the first jump is to find a girl. Call this a staple of the horror genre if you will, but in watching this as an adult, I was horrified that no one thought to look to one of the boys to fulfill the requirement on a technicality. This works to subtly place the burden of salvation onto the pure, chaste female – boys, after all, are expected to sow their wild oats while a girl is socially viewed as tainted goods if she loses her virginity before an “acceptable” time (i.e., marriage). Even worse? This is supposed to be a point of comic relief in the film. How funny that these fellas must have awkward conversations when one of them could have said, “Hey, I’ve never had sex before. Maybe I can save the world.” While not explicitly stated, this works to reinforce social precept. That’s disturbing because it sends the message that, as late as 1987, our young women were still held to the notion that they had to retain virginal status in order to be of value. It all boils down to being either a virgin, a mother or a whore; in this case, the stoic virgin is needed to save the world. Female sexual activity has the power to doom the world to darkness.Even more disturbing is the treatment of Patrick’s sister (Lisa Fuller), who is basically blackmailed into aiding the group via a method that bears a striking resemblance to revenge porn. I’ll be referring to her as PS for the rest of this post, as you may not realize that the writers didn’t bother to give her a name. She is simply the sister of one of our male leads, which reduces her to male ownership. PS is brought to the clubhouse and asked, rather crudely, if she’s a virgin. When PS tells the boys, “You guys are sick,” Rudy (Ryan Lambert) reveals that he has a nude picture of her and threatens to post it in public to get her to help. Stop and think about that for a moment: two teenage boys lure you up to a secluded area, ask you about your sexual history, then threaten to reveal a nude photograph – taken without your consent – for everyone to see if you don’t agree to their demands. PS hadn’t realized that the boys have been spying on her while she’s changing; while her blinds may have been open, the photography was a clear violation of her privacy. That Patrick passively allowed the boys to ogle his sister is a bit disturbing because it makes her an object of gratification. At this point, though, she goes along with it. We don’t get to see any further conversation or reaction, and in the next scene, she’s getting ready to help with the ritual. These boys have effectively blackmailed her into doing their bidding by threatening to show her naked body in pubic against her will. This is blackmail of an odious kind, and it’s wrong.
|I’m pissed for you, sister.|
The real fun in terms of the treatment of females happens during the big showdown of good-versus-evil. When PS reads the passage and the ritual fails, she’s questioned about her virginity and replies no, though this is surprisingly non-verbal. PS communicates with a headshake, as though speaking the truth is not only difficult, but somehow shameful. What’s her younger brother’s reaction? “What do you mean no?!” PS responds, “Well, Steve, but he doesn’t count.” This is met with anger by her brother, but really, do you blame her for lying? This girl had to say anything to avoid the sticky situation of forced public nudity. She was shamed into lying, and it cost the group valuable time. When the gears switch to using Phoebe for the ritual (again, there we are with the virginal female as opposed to any ol’ virgin we had in the house), we find that she is directly threatened bodily and verbally. In a chilling piece of dialogue, Dracula lifts the child by the chin and barks, “Give me the amulet you bitch!” Because that’s the quickest way to take the wind out of a girl’s sails: refer to her as a bitch in order to reduce her worth. And who should come to Phoebe’s rescue? Frankenstein’s Creature, who resolves the issue with brute force. Demonstrating, once again, that a big, strong man is needed in order to solve the problems of the small, helpless girl.
|Yeah, no. No, no, no. No.|
I have to admit that this one left me upset in part because it’s billed as a type of horror-comedy that can be appreciated by pre-teens. What does this teach them? Might makes right. Females need males to protect them. Keep your virginity, girls, in order to save the world. And above all else, go along with whatever plan is out there to keep yourself from getting exposed against your will.
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