In the Exploring Feminisms household, horror is one of the most common film genres playing on our television. Of those out there, very little are what I would consider feminist, or at least having a feminist agenda of some sort. So, why not find some for ourselves?
Here’s the straight dope: this task turned out to be a lot more difficult than I thought–there are about a million and one horror films out there. While sifting through the plethora of bloody thrillers, teen screams, zombie flicks and vampire love stories, directed by both men and women, I came across a few that stood out as notable films ranging from masked and subtle to overt feminist themes.
Here is my 10 top list of films watched during 2012, in alphabetical order.
Enjoy you feminist sickos!
(Ridley Scott, 1979)
If you’ve never seen Alien, then you most likely are aware of the oh-so-popular cultural references, namely aliens exploding from chests, the large black shiny alien with the elongated head and of course, Sigourney Weaver, aka Ripley. Alien is about a crew in the future who investigates a “save our ship” message on a foreign planet and while there encounter a new alien species. The movie is shocking, suspenseful and at times, really gross.
What is so refreshing about the film is that Ripley is tough, pragmatic, independent and smart. She isn’t overly masculine or a woman in need; she’s there to do a job and her character doesn’t fall into any overt gender categories, as many horror films tend to do with their female characters.
(Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955)
A kind school mistress with a weak heart plots to kill her husband with her husband’s lover. After the deed is done, his ghostly presence is presumed to be lurking around. This French director’s style is often referred to as a precursor to Hitchcock and definitely lives up to its reputation as it brims with suspense and intrigue.
Because this film takes place at an all-boys’ school, is haunted by past demons and is run by both compassionate and cunning caretakers, it is comparable to Guillermo del Toro’s film, The Devil’s Backbone and I would recommend it to anyone who felt a kinship to this movie.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
(Scott Derrickson, 2005)
Finally! An original possession flick besides the Exorcist! Director Derrickson puts a new spin on the genre by making it half exorcism, half court drama. Starring Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott and Jennifer Carpenter, the cast adds to the solid story by going all out for a horror film with not an ounce of ham, melodrama or condescension. Linney is the defense lawyer for priest Tom Wilkinson and must reconcile the supernatural with the fact-based legal system. Recommended for anyone who likes horror films that are devil/possession based but are tired of the constant regurgitation of unoriginal films of this genre.
(John Fawcett, 2000)
This coming of age horror story follows the lives of two outcast teenage sisters who are embarking on the threshold of the unknown, namely puberty, guys, and werewolves. Directed by John Fawcett and written by Karen Walton, Ginger Snaps was a window into my own mid-teen youth: hating the popular girls, wearing clothing that was black and big enough to fit Dom De Luise, and having an open love affair with all that is macabre. Having been a teenage girl once, this movie was a stroll down an anguish-filled brick road that was my teenage years and is a tribute to Walton’s ability to recall her past with such vivid accuracy, and presenting it in a new and original way.
(Lucky McKee, 2002)
The VHS of May sat on my VCR for probably over a year. After much harassment from its cult followers I finally saw it and I can finally say, I get it. It’s rare that you watch a film about a young woman whose only best friend is her porcelain doll that may actually be alive, may be committing murder and hacking people to bits and think, “wow, that was a really cute film.” Mission accomplished.
Resident Evil Series (1-5)
(Paul W.S. Anderson: 2002, 2010 & 2012; Russell Mulcahy, 2007; Alexander Witt, 2004)
Rumor is that the Resident Evil franchise was originally a video game, and friends have said that the first of the five holds true to the game. Having never played the game myself, I can comfortably recommend all of them to someone who is less than game-friendly.
The series is a mix of horror and action and Milla Jovovich as Alice shoots and kicks her ass off as the protagonist against both an evil corporation and zombies. Though she is a formidable force with which to be reckoned, she still is a woman who contemplates marriage and children, though these subtle cues are merely hinted at.
Tucker and Dale v. Evil
(Eli Craig, 2010)
This may seem like a rather unusual pick for a feminist horror film. It’s about two hillbillies, Tucker and Dale, and their dashed dreams of remodeling their newly acquired cabin in the backwoods when a group of frat boys and girls show up and ruin the fun. Despite our ideas of Deliverance-style backwoods folk, this film turns these stereotypes upside down by showing a softer side of woodsy types. Tucker and Dale respect women, care about animals and love nature. On the flip side, the rich, educated and upper-class college kids are aggressive, violence-driven, right-wing conservatives who treat women like sex objects, and the women seemingly have no objections.
This film is filled with delight, whimsy, gore, blood and bones, combined with a dash of pleasant surprise.
Underworld Series (1-4)
(Len Wiseman, 2003, 2006 and 2012 and Patrick Tatopoulos, 2009)
Much like Alien and the Resident Evil series, the four Underworld movies are led by a tough female lead who also happens to be a vampire. The first, second and fourth films highlight Selene, a vampire whose family is killed by lycans (werewolves) and because of this, spends her life seeking revenge against the whole race (never judge a whole race by its worst specimens!). In the third, and also the prequel, Selene takes a backseat as we are shown the history of the vampires and lycans and how the feud began.
What can I say, this year I’m into women who have huge…ovaries.
(John Carpenter, 2010)
Carpenter picks up steam again with The Ward; a young woman is sent to an insane asylum that may or may not be haunted by a former “tenant.” Not only is the lead terribly beautiful, but she’s also willful and possibly bat-shit crazy. You be the judge.
The flick is classic John Carpenter with its female lead, gore, perfect music placement, suspense and a great surprise ending.
Witches of Eastwick
(George Miller, 1987)
Okay, yes, I’m going there. Considering that this movie was made in the 1980s, by some standards it may seem old and younger generations may be completely oblivious of its presence. But like major events in history, it would be a detriment to our society if this film was forgotten.
Basic plot rehash: three women live in a small town and the devil moves in. Campy? Yes. Big hair? Yes. And yes, Jack Nicholson, who plays Satan in the film, not-so-ironically calls himself a “horny devil.” Pretty corny. But this film offers so much more! It’s about sexual liberation. It’s about the pressures of living in a small, conservative town where female sexuality and independence are seen as evil. It’s also about Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon all being awesome actresses who are willing to have sex with Satan and not giving a shit—at least at first.
This film could arguably be an amazing feminist horror film, or an incredibly sexist flick from the 1980s. I leave it up to you to discuss.
Need more feminist horror film suggestions? Click here to see my top 10 list for 2011 and my list for 2013