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The Tank Top Horror Film: A Horror Tradition

October 23, 2012


Co-writer John read my Silent House review and proclaimed “the world needs a tank top horror Bad Movie Tuesday. ” I’m not sure if the world needs a pithy review about actresses wearing tank tops in bad movies. However, I am pretty certain the readers would appreciate an interesting horror observation during Halloween. The idea came from a comment my fiancee made while watching Silent House. She said “Jennifer Lawrence is stuck in a tank top in her recent horror film too.”


The next day I saw a trailer for the film Mama that stars Oscar Nominated super actress Jessica Chastain that featured her wearing a tank top.


Three fantastic actresses, three bad films, three tank tops. Tank top horror (TTH) was invented.

Tank top horror is not a new phenomena. Actresses willing to scream whilst being scantily clad has long been a staple of the horror genre. However, I’ve only noticed it lately and begun to realize how ingrained it is within the horror cannon. The interesting thing is that tank tops often go hand in hand with an abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score (15% average for all the films included) and very little money. The one film that did make tons of money was the Texas Chainsaw massacre remake which I blame on Leatherface’s allure and audiences not being hip to Michael Bay’s ability to produce horrible remakes.


The general result is a subpar horror film that makes a few dollars (Chainsaw being the exception) and opens the door for a remake that will inevitably kill the series.


The main reasoning behind this post is not to poke fun or show pictures of women in tank tops. It is to explore a phenomena that cannot be avoided. These roles are not just for B/C List actresses anymore. If you look at the first poster you know notice that before Kristen Stewart was the highest paid actress in Hollywood she was looking at stuff while wearing a tank top. Now she just looks at stuff in different outfits and makes A LOT more money. She survived her date with the tank top because nobody watched The Messengers and it was better than terrible which makes it instantly forgettable.


The last three TTH films have been headlined by the most talked about actresses working today. Elizabeth Olsen, Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain are future Oscar winners who have proven to be magnetic forces of nature.  Their recent films Hunger Games, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Help, Take Shelter, Coriolanus, Liberal Arts, Winter’s Bone, X-Men First Stand, The Silver Linings Playbook, The Tree of Life and The Debt have all featured them as strong willed women who  take matters into their own hands. While listening to the Take Shelter (best movie of last year) commentary director Jeff Nichols talked about how Chastain didn’t want to be saddled with the stock “wife” role. Her hesitance to play thesupporting wife makes it all the more confusing that she would play the “tank top woman” in a horror film called Mama.

TTH films are like the 12 mile mud run known as the Tough Mudder. If they survive the mud and manage to be good in the film they will have a long career. If they star in a TTH film called The Roommate with Billy Zane their chances are not so good and they will end up like my brother and I in this clip


Their odds of success also falter when they find themselves yelling at ovens.


Sidenote: I have no clue why Alba is yelling at the oven. I thought the picture was funny and wanted it in the post in the same way I like to include Dolph Lundgrens singing Elvis and Nicolas Cage running around in a bear suit.

It is interesting to see these fantastic actresses who have wonderful resumes putting on the tank top and starring in quickly forgotten films. Is it inevitable? Is it similar to testing almost every young actor in comic book adaptations?   Did they want to get in shape for their next roles and the tank tops were motivation? Did they want to see if their acting holds up in bad horror films? The tank top is a strange conundrum in the horror world that can only be matched by the recent crop of found footage films in which tourists go to Chernobyl for extreme tourism or feature demons named Toby that have way too much free time. (Thanks John for those wonderful reviews)

These movie rarely make money but they can be great for an actresses career. Here are instances of actresses who survived the dreaded top.

1. Olsen is a fantastic actress with indie cred who chose a  TTH film with an interesting selling point. Silent House was done in one take (strategic edits). Critics basically said “the movie was sub par but Elizabeth Olsen was great.” Studios, producers and directors appreciated that she elevated a bad movie by being convincingly terrified.


2. Jennifer Lawrence escaped horror movie infamy because House at the end of the Street was released in theaters with little press and was out of the theaters so quickly people didn’t have time to watch it. They studio hid the film in the same way Lawrence is hiding from whatever bad plot twist was ahead of her.


3. Mama will in no way hurt Chastain’s career because she is a fantastic actress and Zero Dark Thirty will erase any thought of the horror film. If anything it might get her a role in the remake of Sid and Nancy because now she can pull off the punk look.


4. Hilary Swank survived her TTH film The Reaping because at any given moment she can make like a chameleon and win another Oscar.


5. Odette Annable survived the TTH film The Unborn because the only thing people talked about was how Gary Oldman ended up in the film.


6. Amber Heard survived All the Boys Love Mandy Lane because it sat on the shelves for years waiting for distribution after Senator went bankrupt. By the time it was finally released Heard has passed the tank top horror tests.

Amber Heard all the boys love mandy lane

Upcoming and established actors have their own version of TTH. It is the Bad Superhero Film (BSF). Chris Evans had to survive Fantastic Four. Dolph Lundgren drove around on a motorcycle in the sewer in The Punisher. Sly Stallone destroyed Judge Dredd and tangled with a pasta robot. Ben Affleck got stuck in a strange playground fight in Daredevil.  Ben Foster played a shirtless angel in X-Men 3. The most famous BSF has to be George Clooney’s batnipples and Arnold Schwarzengger’s one liners in Batman and Robin. It doesn’t matter where you are in your career because a BSF or TTH film is right around the corner.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the TTH genre is a rite of passage. It doesn’t matter where actresses are in their careers because the tank top is looming. What matters is how well their performances hold up amongst the badness. Michael Jordan had the flu and still scored 38 in the playoffs against the Jazz. Elizabeth Olsen was saddled with a terrible twist but walked out with her head held high and Oscar glory in her sights.

This Halloween stay away from the Tank Top and watch the classics like Halloween, Poltergeist or Ernest Scared Stupid. Also, check out  under the radar horror films like Devil, Insidious, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil or Session 9. Read John’s Horror Corner posts as well. He covers mainstream, less mainstream and incredibly non-mainstream Horror flicks.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. mmarnall permalink*
    October 23, 2012 10:31 am

    Oh look! You even managed to squeeze a picture of Cam Gigandet into this post…you knew John was going to read it, didn’t you? 🙂

    Fantastic post by the way! All from spending so much time with you watching bad horror films.

  2. johnleavengood permalink
    October 23, 2012 5:31 pm

    “He covers mainstream, less mainstream and incredibly non-mainstream Horror flicks.” –The Hof.

    This quote will find its way into a LOT of my future posts. It serves as a note from my therapist justifying my strange cinematic proclivities. You know? The choices that make folks like my cousin wonder “Where do you find these movies?” as I post about the love/revenge story Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl or the medical marvel The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence.


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