My Top 10 Feminist Horror Movie Picks for 2011

Every year in our house we watch at least thirty horror movies during the month of October.  Of those, very little are what I would consider feminist, or at least having a feminist agenda of some sort.  So, why not seek some out and recommend them to you?  I am also getting them out super early this month so that you can enjoy all Halloween season long!

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, if you didn’t know.  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.  I narrowed my list down to ten and are in alphabetical order.

Enjoy you feminist sickos!

(Brian De Palma, 1976)

This movie is the ultimate revenge fantasy for any girl who was picked on in high school by the popular girls.  Carrie is tormented by both her uber-Christian mother and the nasty girls in school, but gets her comeuppance with the help of her telekinetic powers.

Cat People
(Jacques Tourneur, 1942)

The women of the Dubrovna clan in Serbia turn into large, angry cats when they become jealous or angry and attack the threatening man, or woman.  Young Irena, now transplanted to New York, has brought her family history with her, along with her deadly kiss!  (Also refer to my Cat People blog post under the Movie Reviews tab.)

The Descent
(Neil Marshall, 2005)

With the exception of a brief appearance during the first five minutes of the film, this all female cast entails a descent, if you will, of both the physical and psychological kinds.  A group of six women go spelunking in North Carolina where they encounter a group of ravenous, bloody thirsty creatures, leaving them to rely only on themselves as the heroes.

In My Skin
(Marina de Van, 2002)

I saw this movie for the first time this year and was intrigued because it was compared to Polanski’s Repulsion.  Though this flick delves heavily into body horror; one could argue that she is exercising autonomy over her own body, making the conscious decision of whether or not to mutilate herself. Where others may find her mutilation deplorable, she finds comfort.  In all, it definitely kept me on the edge of my seat and biting my fingers nails throughout most of the movie…though my definition of biting my finger nails is quite different than how the lead in this film would bite hers…

(Antonia Bird, 1999)

Antonia Bird’s Ravenous encompasses Guy Pearce, westward expansion, war, physical and mental seclusion, and oh, don’t forget, cannibals!  This film has subtle sprinklings of a feminist woman’s touch, including the female Native American who seems to be the only character with any sense amongst the all male cast.

(Roman Polanski, 1965)

Catherine Deneuve.  A woman repulsed by all men.  Enough said.

Rosemary’s Baby
(Roman Polanski, 1968)

This year, Roman gets two films on my top 10.  Though slightly predictable to be on many horror lists, nothing scares me more as a woman than a group of men having literal control over my uterus, not to mention giving birth to Satan.

Sleepaway Camp
(Robert Hiltzik, 1983)

This movie has one of the most shocking endings I’ve ever seen, along with some hardcore gender bending that will blow your mind!

The Slumber Party Massacre
(Amy Holden Jones, 1982)

Written by Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones, this horror flick has a feel all its own and in many ways sets itself apart from the typical B-Horror film of the 1980s.  Though the premise of an all-female crew alone with the parents away on vacation may seem run of the mill, but it dares to confront such issues as youth, virginity, masculinity and fear all in one swoop.

 I give Slumber Party Massacre this year’s top Feminist Horror Film award for being my favorite new discovery!

(Mitchell Lichtenstein, 2007)

Vagina Dentada.  Look it up.

If only we all, men and women, could instantly react against our aggressors in such an assertive manner.

For more recommendations, see the list for my 2012 Feminist Horror Movie Picks and 2013 Feminist Horror Movie Picks

Cat People

Sometimes described as a “B-Movie” because of its low budget, I would argue that Jacques Tourner’s Cat People (1942) transcends the genre of the low quality, often ridiculous and hokey films that most times are associated with those on a budget.

Basically, the story is one of a young Serbian woman named Irena who fears that when she becomes immensely jealous, angry, or kisses a man, she becomes a black cat and attacks the offending party, whether male or female.  Any day of the week she can be found at the local zoo’s panther cage, sketching the cats with large swords being stabbed through them.  Irena, hating and rejecting her ability to transform draws the sword in a literal hope that the cat part of her will be slain (why she wouldn’t want to embrace this awesome power is beyond me).  During one her daily sketch sessions, local mapmaker Oliver is intrigued by her beauty and pursues her, later stating that though he did not love her, he was drawn and intrigued by her.

The two quickly get hitched and are married for several months without even the hint of physical activity, including kissing on down.  Irena fears the transformation into her powerful cat self and I’d venture to bet that this is a metaphor for the fear of female sexuality, both from a male’s point of view and also the taboo of women having and recognizing their own sexual urges.

As time rolls on, Oliver becomes increasingly frustrated by Irena’s lack of physical affection–although Irena is upfront with him from the beginning that she needs time and he assures her that she can have all the time in the world.  Unfortunately for Irena, to Oliver “all the time in the world” translates to a few mere months before he finds himself in the embrace of a female co-worker, with whom he quickly leaves Irena for.

But let’s not argue that little Ollie didn’t try to salvage the marriage, he did after all send her to a male shrink to “cure” her irrational fantasies.  Her therapist, Dr. Judd believes that Irena can be cured by kissing her against her will and as a result she becomes a cat, and in this case I’d wager more of a defense mechanism and kills him.  And why shouldn’t she defend herself when forced upon by her doctor?  Though this film was written, directed and produced by men who probably weren’t attending any feminist rallies, this revenge fantasy does resonate with my blood lust for attackers and rapists, which is essentially what this doctor was.

While watching the somewhat incestuous relationship between Irena, Doc Judd and her husband Oliver, I kept thinking that I had seen this scenario before.  And then it hit me–The Yellow Wallpaper, the short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman!  It almost seems verbatim–a woman who is deemed by her husband too high strung and emotional and is physically and/or emotionally locked up from society (in the short story’s version in a child’s room).  In both stories, the female lead is patronized by her husband and doctor, who discuss “the patient” amongst each other while skipping over the middleperson–the patient herself.  Both women’s cures are discussed and prescribed, and the medicine is the inhibition of personal expression and/or creativity.  Again, I think it is safe to call both of these scenarios fairly textbook–that women’s bodies and minds need to be analyzed, explored, controlled and cured.

Another point of note that struck me while watching is the idea of the “other,” which Irena inherently is as she is not only a woman, but foreign to New York.  And why wouldn’t a foreigner have a family history of crazed, emotional women who turn into killer cats because of some sort of Turkish curse or something of the like?  Because Irena is “other” to the main characters, she is mysterious, deadly and comes from uncivilized and archaic roots.  Even the American female lead, when juxtaposed to Irena’s outlandish story is portrayed as rational and believable, even when she indulges in fanciful, irrational stories.

Though I probably wouldn’t describe Cat People as a feminist film per se, I would say it can be analyzed with a feminist lens, especially as a cultural artifact of the 1940s.  Through it all though, and even though she was the villain, I sided with Irena and for the first time ever, I sided with the bad guy, or in this case, bad gal.  What can I say?  She’s one tough pussy.