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How Horror Movies Fair in On-Screen Diversity and Representation Tests 

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I was recently reminded of the Sexy Lamp Test from Kimberly Pinzon’s Book, Final Girl Redux: A Relaxed Look at Women’s Place in Horror. [Go to my interview with Pinzon HERE]

I revisited the concept and, as usual, ended up on a journey through the sticky interweb of representation of gender, race, disability and sexuality on film.

But to start, if you’re not familiar with the premise of The Sexy Lamp Test, a movie fails if a female character can be removed from the story and replaced by a sexy lamp—if, that is, the female character does nothing and says nothing that is relevant to the story, with the possible exception of existing but doesn’t have any effect on the plot or other characters’ developments.


Horror fails: Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness, the frighteners, the Shrine, the Stuff, Hostel, Fright Night, Paranormal Activity 

Some say the Sexy Lamp test is even more accurate than the well-known Bechdel test. 

The Bechdel test 

  1. The movie has to have at least two women in it,

  2. They have to talk to each other, and (c) it has to be about something other than a man

Some clear passes are:

Ginger Snaps, The Descent, Hellraiser, Texas Chainsaw remake, Romary’s Baby.

Revisit the episode as I say more about how the test (or any test I mention here) can’t be a full measure of how Rosemary’s Baby represents women. 

Just a quick list  to bring us back on track of some horror movies that do not pass the Bechdel Test: The Shining, The Stand, Dawn of the Dead, Children of the Corn, Shawn of the Dead, Fright Night, The Lost Boys

Mako Mari Test

The story has: 

a) at least one female character; 

b) who gets her own narrative arc; 

c) that is not about supporting a man’s story.

Characters who Pass:

Ginger Snaps, The Descent, Exorcist, The Ring, Drag me to Hell, May, Carrie, Jugface.

Characters who Fail:

Hellraiser: Julia’s entire role is to support Frank’s revitalization. 

Pantomime Test

The female character could be replaced by a male character with little to no edits and the story remains unchanged. 

[NOTE: I couldn’t find any comment on whether this was considered a good or bad thing. I think we have to use other criteria along with this. For example, if a character can be swapped easily in an action movie where the hero’s gender (read: femininity/womanhood) isn’t a focus of their ability, then it’s good. But if a film can swap the gender without acknowledging some major flaw in how the character is made to be realistic (read: the problem with how some male authors write about women’s issues) then it’s a fail.]

Oracle Test

A disabled character is:

  1. Not focused on to be healed or ‘fixed’

  2. Their narrative doesn’t revolve around their disability

  3. They do their job or play the role while having a disability, not only in spite of it.

Silberan’s Rule

The step-parent is not evil and doesn’t die

Also the divorced parents don’t reunite.

This one makes me think of that Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where John Ritter is Buffy’s mom’s boyfriend. He slaps Buffy at one point and he ends up being an evil cyborg. And yes, he dies. 

The Delaney Test

  1. a woman has a job that is essential to the plot

  2. she's good at it

The TV show, Bones

Under Paris (2024)

Flatliners (2017)

Phryne Fisher Test 

The show has a female character who 

  1. has a traditionally masculine job

  2. does not masculinize herself for the sake of said job 

  3. is not sexualized in the narrative/film

Mimic, Silence of the Lambs

Deggan’s Rule

This must have at least two non-white characters and the film isn’t about race

The Duvernay Test

Coined as ‘the Bechdel Test for race’: a Black character — or a character of another minority — must have ‘fully realized’ lives, with their own desires, rather than serving as background characters for white character plotlines.

The Invitation

Get Out

The Blackening

The Waithe Test

Founded by Lena Waithe, the criteria focuses solely on the representation of the black woman. 

To pass the Waithe Test, the film has to feature a black woman who exists within a position of power and is in a healthy relationship.

Hidden Figures passes this with flying colors but more examples are definitely needed in horror. 

The Peirce Test

(Named after Kimberly Peirce: director of “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Stop-Loss” and “Carrie”)

There must be a female character (protagonist or antagonist) with her own story, who has ‘dimension’ and exists in an authentic way, showcasing her needs and desires which she ultimately pursues (creating action). In addition, the viewer has to also be able to understand or empathize with her and her needs/actions. 

The Invitation

The Villalobos Test 

There must be a Latina lead and, subsequently, the lead — or another Latina character — must be shown as professional or college educated, as well as speaking unaccented English, and must not be sexualised (as a key character trait).

The Ko Test

To pass the test a movie has to feature a non-white, female-identifying person who has lines in at least 5 scenes and speaks them in English.

Vito Russo Test

Film must include a LGBTQIA2+ character and 

  1. Must not be defined only by their gender identity

  2. Must be ties to the plot that their removal would have significant effect 

For more history on Vito Russo and his work on Pride/Queer activism, check out the full episode;

May, the Feeding, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats, Satanic Panic, Survival of the Dead

TV Show: What We Do in the Shadows

Ok, so a test that will be harder for us horror nerds is the Landau Test

A film fails the test if a main female character ends up dead, pregnant, or if she causes a plot problem for a male protagonist.

Easy fails for 2 reasons is Black Christmas (1974)

I’m joining in and creating my own test and so far there are many failures of what I’m coining the

The Woodward Test 

I’m amalgamating my test with Joanne Woodward - the actress, not my husband’s ex-wife, just to be clear. 

Joanne Woodward is in a 1956 film called A Kiss before Dying - a BIG failure of the Landau test because the main character gets pregnant and dead. 

So my or our test is that in a horror movie there cannot be

  1. a scene a kissing scene or a sex scene that leaves the couple vulnerable so that one or both of them is killed by a third party killer

  2. mentioning of anyone’s (especially a woman’s) virginity

-extra fail if the woman is killed first or only the woman dies

-extra extra fail if it is the lover that kills the woman

Christine, Idle Hands, The Cabin in the Woods, Behind the Mask, Satanic Panic

If you can think of more (there are many that fail) and almost fail but not quite so this is going to be a challenge. Like, It Follows may not really fail technically because it’s not during sex, right? What do you think? 

These types of tests that we can put against horror films and all films just help us see how our very own socially constructed world  is playing out on screen. 

I take this as also putting a healthy view of sex on screen and not making it taboo and off limits for teens - not scaring them away from it. Also I’m very sick of the virgin thing. Like virginity is so stupid and with women its an even different deal like she’s lost something - lost her purity. IT needs to stop the whole she survives\if she’s a virgin thing - even in new movies like yes, I see you Satanic Panic. 

Please comment with your films that fail the Ashe Woodward Test!

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