Women in Horror
I am a horror nerd, and also a woman. I have loved scary, bloody and spooky stuff pretty much as long as I can remember. Growing up, I never paid much attention to gender representation in my favorite genre, I just loved it because I loved it. I'm in my thirties now, more sensitive to and analytic of the storytelling I see in the world. The past several years, I've found myself more closely examining the movies I'm so fond of, and really digging into what makes them - and me - tick.
Women have always had quite a special place in the horror genre. The damsel in distress, the final girl, the vengeance seeker and more all play pivotal roles in their respective stories. And the female storyteller brings a unique perspective to the genre, which continues to influence male and female characters alike.
And so, I present to you my women in horror favorites. Some feature strong female characters, and some are simply good stories told by women. I could write a novel about some of these films, but I've tried to keep it brief. I encourage you to watch them for yourself and draw your own conclusions.
Move over boys, the girls are taking over.
Carrie is one of those movies I grew up watching, but somehow never managed to see all of. I always thought it ended after she burned down the prom. When I finally saw the final scenes with her mother, I was amazed at how scary and impactful it was. I grew up in a strong but balanced Christian home, so Carrie's mother always scared the bejesus out of me. Seeing her murdered like the crucified Christ by poor tortured and shellshocked Carrie really hit me on a raw emotional level.
There are many great female characters in Carrie, and it's impressive that it was written and directed by men. In the 70's no less. I applaud Stephen King for having the guts to write about a teenage girl's first period, and I applaud his wife, Tabby, for digging it out of the garbage when he thought it wasn't good enough. At it's core, Carrie is a coming of age story that effectively tackles how we feel about our bodies, what we do to fit in, and the very real struggle we all go through to embrace who we are meant to be.
Friday the 13th, Part 2
The slasher film is an essential part of the horror genre, and no slasher film would be complete without the final girl. Many interesting characters hold this coveted position, but my favorite will always be Ginny Field from Friday the 13th Part 2. Ginny is smart, resourceful, cute, likeable and most importantly, believable. She's the first to go head to head with Jason, and tells us his story from a sympathetic perspective unlike any other in the franchise. Ginny's final girl serves as an important foundation to the Friday the 13th mythology, and the whole trajectory of the series might have been different if not for her strong, capable lead.
If you haven't seen it, maybe don't watch this clip. It's a little spoilery.
It's hard for me to find adequate words to describe how I feel about Pet Sematary. It terrified me as a child, and continues to be one of my favorite horror films as an adult. There is something perfect about the tone of this movie - some combination of the atmosphere and the story that truly unnerves the audience. Of course it has it's flaws, but somehow they just don't matter too much in the grand scheme of things.
Pet Sematary was directed by Mary Lambert, who also directed the Like a Prayer video for Madonna. Of course I had no idea that it was directed by a woman when I was kid. But when I learned about Mary's direction as an adult, it was icing on the cake for me. One of my favorites was created by a fellow female horror nerd (who was also born in Arkansas). It's no wonder I love it so much.
After a lifetime of viewings, I feel like I'm just starting to find the deeper meaning in Pet Sematary. Sure, it has a lot to say about death, loss and grief. But at it's core, it's cautionary tale about the dark and forbidden places that exist inside each of us. Some barriers weren't meant to be crossed. Once you dig up those skeletons, ghosts and monsters are sure to follow.
I've been aware of Ginger Snaps for years, but I only recently saw it for the first time. It's a shame that I didn't discover it earlier, because I completely identify with how unapologetically weird the Fitzgerald sisters are. In a world of cute, shiny, popular girls, they aren't afraid to embrace and express their fascination with the darkness. It's a fun and honest film about being a teenager, being a female, and coming to terms with your own body (and your own monsters).
American Psycho is one of those movies you just never forget. When first viewing it in 2005, it was one of the most violent, disturbing and brutal things I had ever seen. Although difficult to watch, it has an addicting quality that always has me coming back for more. And when I learned that it had been directed and written by women, I was amazed. Because even though I've been a horror fan my whole life, I haven't met too many girls along the way. Sure, American Psycho was based on a book written by a man, but it was brought to life by Guinevere Turner and Mary Harron. These are the ladies that gave me my first conscious introduction to a world where women can be just as nasty as the boys.
I literally couldn't find one good trailer, so you'll get one of my favorite scenes instead.
Oh how I love The Descent. It ranks among the best horror of the 2000s, and maybe even of all time. I expected it to be a basic, run of the mill jump scare monster fest, but was presented with something much more. The atmosphere, the characters and the music all work together to create an intriguing story filled with tension long before the monsters show up. In fact, the monsters are very much secondary to the spoken and unspoken stories playing out between our all female cast.
Women have often been given clear and stereotypical roles in horror, but in The Descent every character is distinct and unique. They each have likeable qualities we can identify with, and are more than set-dressings to move the story along. They are in capable, they are in control, and they ARE the story.
At the center of this strong ensemble we have Sarah, who is dealing with the aftermath of heartbreaking tragedy. She is resourceful, resilient, and she just might be losing her mind. The audience roots for her, but can't completely trust her. Sarah is the ultimate unreliable narrator, which allows for many interpretations of The Descent, and keeps us digging for more with each viewing.
I am not a mother, nor do I wish to be. Even though some of us choose not to go down that road, there is no denying that motherhood is an important part of being a woman. Tremendous strength is found in the bond between between mother and child, and that strength is fertile ground for compelling storytelling.
The Orphanage is a fantastic ghost story, and also happens to be a weirdly heartwarming story about family. While Laura has no biological children of her own, she is a true mother. She has an adopted son with a terminal disease, and she's also decided to open up her home as an orphanage for special needs children. It's clear that she is driven to be a nurturer, and when her son Simon goes missing, Laura sacrifices everything to find and take care of him. Her desperate search and unexpected discovery create a beautiful and inspiring picture of the pure and powerful love of motherhood.
Two women battle each other in a home invasion on Christmas Eve. Simple concept, complex meaning. Inside is a brutal film that deals with the particular horror of pregnancy, interpreted through loss, trauma, revenge and survival. If you wanna learn more about this fantastic French film (and trust me, you do) I invite you to read my full analysis of Inside from earlier this year.
Mary Mason is one of my favorite characters. Ever. She's a liberating combo of smart AND stylish, brainy AND beautiful. In the face of some truly crappy circumstances, she rebuilds herself and crafts her own special kind of success with help from almost no one.
She isn't afraid to get her hands dirty (or bloody) and she looks great while doing it. Role model status.
American Mary is one of those rare films that I wanted watch all over again immediately after seeing it the first time. It's dark, haunting, empowering and beautiful.
This powerhouse was built brick by brick by the unstoppable Soska sisters, who just happen to be real-life Marys. Their talent is obvious in their work, but the Soskas also possess an undeniable charisma that lights up a room. I had the pleasure of meeting them a few years back, and they were lovely human beings. Their unique voice is an important one, and I cannot wait to see what these ladies continue to accomplish in the industry.