My Top 10 Feminist Horror Movie Picks for 2013

In the Exploring Feminisms household, horror is one of the most common film genres playing on our television.  Of those out there, very few are what I would consider feminist, or at least having a feminist agenda of some sort.  So the task of the day is to find some that may lend a little hope to the genre.

As with every year, this task is always a lot more difficult than I think it will be, resulting in a lot of viewing, and a lot of discarded films.

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 overtly feminist.  Overall, I saw two distinct motifs appear this year, and their themes timeless: coming of age stories and attaining beauty at any cost.

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Aliens
(James Cameron, 1986)

Okay, I know that we’ve all probably seen this film about a thousand times on TBS, but as I watching it again (sans commercials) with a more critical eye, I was surprised to see a few nuggets of insight that maybe be somewhat hidden to the casual channel flipper.

In the second of the franchise, (Aliens being the follow-up to the classic, Alien) we learn that Ripley had a daughter decades before she was propelled through time, but who is now within the timeframe of the story, deceased.  This fact gives more weight to her self-appointed role of guardian of Newt, the newly rescued child who undoubtedly reminds her of her daughter.   What’s more, because the nature of the military is inherently male-dominated, based on a masculine ideology, it is extremely subversive that Ripley’s character makes a conscious decision in the face of her superiors and other military personnel to show compassion and nurturing qualities.

The cast also includes not only women, but a variety of races and ethnicities within roles of power.  Given that this film was made in 1988, seeing a measurable amount of minority cast members is arguable progressive for the time.

Aliens

American Mary
(Jen & Sylvia Soska, 2012)

 American Mary is the story of Mary, a med school student who is extremely adept in the way of suturing, but is having trouble making ends meet.  When her dominating (ok, asshole) male professor invites her to a party with only male doctors as guests, she is used as a human rag doll.  Too disturbed to continue her formal education, she becomes an amateur plastic surgeon for an underground body modification crowd.

The film can be categorized in the body horror sub-genre, and recommended for fans of films like Inside or In My SkinAM is a definite step up from the Soska sisters’ first film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, by giving us some satisfying gore, a more fleshed out plot, and better acting with Katharine Isabelle from Ginger Snaps leading the way.  Though I do tend to feel that rape revenge movies, much like Holocaust films, by virtue of the content, already have the audience fired up and ready for revenge.  Lo and behold, I did get fired up and like Mary, wanted revenge, and we as an audience are not disappointed.

american-mary

Black Rock
(Katie Aselton, 2012)

In Black Rock, three old friends return to a deserted campsite in an attempt to reforge their fragmented friendship, though while on their way there, it becomes explosive due to painful betrayals in their past.  In an ironic twist, a group of violent, dishonorably discharged men back from the Middle East is what glues the women back together again.

The situation between the ex-soldiers and the three friends mirrors that of Americans invading the Middle East, and the reports of aggressive soldiers abusing civilians and prisoners of war.  Except in this instance, the three friends must go guerrilla style after the men try to murder them and turn into the hunters.  In essence, the women become the aggressors themselves, but do so in the name of their own survival.  This film is extremely suspenseful and at times uncomfortable to watch because of its complete unpredictability.

Black Rock

Contracted
(Eric England, 2013)

Contracted is a breath of fresh air not only within the horror genre bubble, but also to film at large right now.  When compared to any given contemporary Hollywood film, this indie flick puts them all to shame.  It’s funny, gory, shocking, cute, and original, and film that conveys all of those adjectives is certainly a rarity.

Contracted is about a down on her luck in love lesbian that makes an unwise, alcohol and drug induced mistake and sleeps with a strange guy.  What follows is a cosmic retribution, possibly by the lesbian Gods that be, where an unknown and horrific plague is cast upon her body.

Contracted

Death Becomes Her
(Robert Zemeckis, 1992)

Like Aliens, you may be surprised by this film making it on the list.  But, after watching it for the first time since the 1990s, the writers were onto something, and my assumption is an astute eye for observing the pervasive late 20th culture of Hollywood and the stigmatization of the elusive aging actress.

The title Death Becomes Her sums up the whole point of the film; death, or aging comes upon a woman, but for many actresses, aging is the proverbial kiss of death-the death of their youth, and subsequently in the youth-obsessed culture in which we live, the death of a career.  This concept is parodied in the film as two women drink “the potion” and stay young and classically beautiful forever.  However, the caveat is that they must take care of their bodies because if their physical bodies do in fact die, they will continue to live.  Though parodied to the extreme, we see the lengths of what some women will endure to stay forever “beautiful,” though for these women, beautiful is exactly the opposite of what they become.

Death Becomes Her

Dumplings
(Fruit Chan, 2004)

Mrs. Li, an actress in her 30s sees herself, in comparison to herself decades earlier in her films and to her husband’s younger lovers, as unattractive and undesirable.  Like the middle-aged actresses in Death Becomes Her, the not even yet middle-aged Mrs. Li also takes a potion of sorts, except instead of swallowing a glowing pink liquid one time for eternal youth, she needs to continually eat fetuses in the form of dumplings to remain wrinkle-free.

Dumplings is the perfect bookend to Death Becomes Her, and shows how regardless of the decade or country, women feel pressure to maintain eternal youth to feel a sense of relevance as they get older.  In Mrs. Li’s case, she finds complete legitimacy in skirting the lengths of infanticide.

dumplings

Excision
(Richard Bates, Jr., 2012)

 It is rare when a writer/director can tap into the the inner workings (similar to Jack and Diane (below) and Turn Me On, Dammit!) of a teenager with any modicum of accuracy, and this film does just that.

Excision depicts the darker side of a teenager navigating through their newly discovered, unwieldy sexual urges, and in this case, the main character fantasizes about necrophilia.  The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) describes lead character Pauline as, “disturbed and delusional,” but this description underestimates the difficultly of coming to terms with your newly developing body and all the psychological confusion therein.

Sex with corpses aside, the way that main character Pauline is portrayed is both unusual and empowering.  Though in high school and without any real friends, Pauline is preternaturally self-assured.  She owns her desires; she decides when to have her first sexual experience, with whom, and what type of experience she wants to have.  She recognizes the limitations of an encounter with a teenage boy, and instead of the typical first jackrabbit-like, awkward sexual experience for most teenage girls, she dictates how the experience will best pleasure herself.  This is especially rare in both film and real life as many women feel a sense of shame concerning their own bodies.

Excision

 Eyes Without a Face (“Les yeux sans visage”)
(Georges Franju, 1960)

Christiane is involved in a disfiguring car accident, but instead of letting her live with her less than perfect visage, her father kills young women in the hopes of transplanting their faces onto his daughter’s now lack of one.  Her father practices his untested medical procedures on stray dogs, puts her through a series of transplants where her face rots away from her bones, and even stages her own death.

Throughout the film, as her father continues to assert more authority over her life, Christiane begins to prefer death to a life of a virtual ghost with no autonomy.  Without her permission or the choice to make decisions over her own body, he prefers that she be dead to the world as opposed to being perceived as unattractive to a society that is universally understood to be obsessed with flawless beauty.

Eyes Without a Face

Grace
(Paul Solet, 2009)

When it comes to the horror genre today, in this case, the vampire genre, it is damn near impossible to glean any originality in most horror sub-sects today that haven’t been regurgitated, recycled or spread too thin.   In the story of Grace and her newborn child, we see originality brought to the genre by taking the vampire story a step further outside of the box as Grace finds that her baby is only satiated by the nourishment of blood.

Grace is thick with issues that are extremely personal to women specifically, including the loss of a child, breast feeding, women loving women, Oedipal issues, et al, but takes them a step further by stretching the limits of what women will endure to fulfill their more disturbing desires.

Grace Film

 Jack and Diane 
(Bradley Rust Gray, 2012)

Jack and Diane is one of those great coming of age stories that serves as a reminder that the experience of first love, whether you are attracted to the same or opposite sex, is the great equalizer.  Don’t you remember?  You acted completely irrational; you ignored your parents’ phone calls; you came home late without permission; you couldn’t sleep…you went crazy!  It was all very star-crossed lovers, and even Shakespeare understood hundreds of years ago the power of that innocent, all consuming love, except in Jack and Diane’s case, it would be more akin to Juliet and Juliet, but the passion remains the same.

Of course, with all the lovey-doveyness of the first love, there was always a deeper-seated, more sinister undercurrent: obsession, insecurity, doubt and all of those new, unchecked emotions.  Instead of, say, in Romeo and Juliet, resulting in double suicide of sorts, in Jack and Diane’s case, these emotions manifest themselves as ravenous monsters.

Jack and Diane is unique, sweet, and dares to step outside of the realm of the typical coming of age script by normalizing young, same sex relationships and offers us a quaint, original way of representing human emotions.

Jack and Diane

Afterbirth

After three years of feminist horror lists, a shocking thought came to me recently.  Is there such a thing as a feminist horror film? Considering one angle: in many of the films listed over the years, a common thread is the victim reclaiming power by exacting a bloody revenge against her aggressor.  Reclaiming power after being subjugated can be, well, empowering.  On the other side of the coin, if someone asserts their power over you, and you then reclaim that power and use it against them, it maintains that imbalance, and the question becomes: doesn’t asserting power over another make you no better than your abuser?  Or does appropriating that violent power from your aggressor empower?  You have to ask yourself, which kind of feminist are you?

Need more recommendations?  Check out my lists for 2011 and 2012!

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My Top 10 Feminist Horror Movie Picks for 2012

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!

~

Alien
(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.

Diabolique
(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.

Ginger Snaps
(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.

May
(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.

The Ward
(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.

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Need more feminist horror film suggestions?  Click here to see my top 10 list for 2011 and my list for 2013

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!

Carrie
(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…

Ravenous
(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.

Repulsion
(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!

Teeth
(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