Women in Horror

Favorite Things: Women of Horror (Characters)

At the 2017 Phoenix Comicon I had the pleasure of being a panelist alongside three amazing women to discuss the female perspective of horror. The panel went over female stereotyping in horror, the difference between how male and female anatomy is censored, and why women enjoy horror when it is typically considered a genre for men. This made me think of various female characters in horror films that could be considered role models. These are the women who are strong, independent, and break the mold of what we typically see of women in horror films. Here is the list of my top 5 favorite female characters in horror:

5. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) – The Silence of the Lambs

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Clarice Starling is one of the few female law enforcement characters in horror films that isn’t a caricature. She is strong, intelligent, and determined to make a name for herself in a male-dominated field. Starling is also completely fearless. She mentally takes on Hannibal Lecter, and physically takes on Buffalo Bill. Clarice Starling is also a standout because she is not defined by her relationship with a man. Many times during The Silence of the Lambs she is hit on, but she barely even acknowledges it because her career and the case are more important. Starling should be every woman’s role model.

4. Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) – House of 1000 Copses, The Devil’s Rejects

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This is probably one of the more odd choices for my list. I am not saying people should aspire to be like Baby Firefly because, let’s face it, she’s a psychotic murderer. Instead, she is on the list because she plays a unique role in the horror world. Most of the time when a horror film has a female villain, she is doing evil things for a specific reason. Sometimes that reason is revenge, sometimes it is fear, sometimes it is because of childhood abuse. Baby Firefly is one of the rare female horror villains that does evil things simply because she enjoys it, like we see with many male horror villains. I would love to see more evil women in horror like Baby Firefly.

3. Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) – A Nightmare on Elm Street, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

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It’s no secret that A Nightmare on Elm Street was my first horror film. Nancy Thompson is on my list because she is not your average slasher film final girl. Leading up to this film, final girls mostly just survived or they were saved at the last second by a man. Nancy is different. When she learned that her life and the lives of her loved ones were in danger, she gets to work. Not only does Nancy study up on the killer, but she even studies survival tactics and traps in order to defeat Freddy. Nancy is the first well-known final girl to truly go into defensive mode and try to find a way to not just survive, but eliminate the threat. If you ever find yourself being hunted by a psycho killer, be like Nancy.

2. Erin (Sharni Vinson) – You’re Next

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Erin is a more recent final girl, but she is definitely one of the most amazing. As soon as people start getting picked off in You’re Next, Erin is ready. She takes the skills she grew up learning and uses them to her benefit. Not only does Erin keep herself calm, but she also tries to keep everyone else calm and safe throughout the entire film. She puts her survival skills to the test by finding the most logical solution to each problem she encounters, and even sets a few brilliant traps to try to stop the attackers. Erin is one tough lady, and someone I would want by my side if I were in a slasher film.

1. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) – Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection

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Ellen Ripley, the epitome of a female horror role model. While the first Alien film is probably the only one that can truly be called a horror film, she is still number 1 on my list. Ellen Ripley is a complete badass, and she is probably the first woman in horror that takes on traditionally male roles. She is strong, she is a leader, and she is determined. Ripley is another female character that often takes on the leadership roles that would normally be played by a man. Not only does she excel in this role, but she also doesn’t take any crap from the men that try to challenge her. What’s even more amazing about her is that she will always do her best to save everyone, not just herself. She even saves a cat from the terrifying Xenomorph!

XX

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XX is a unique horror anthology in that not only stars women, but all of the shorts are also written and directed by women. Since women writing and directing in the horror genre tend to be few and far between, it is refreshing that these talented females collaborated to create this film. The anthology starts with what could be called an overarching story, but really it is simply a bizarre string of stop motion images to set the eerie tone for what’s to come. While there didn’t seem to be much of a purpose to the stop motion animation other than to act as a visual intermission between segments, it was still quite beautiful in a disturbing way. In order to properly review the rest of the film I will divide by each segment in order of how they were shown.

The Box: This segment was written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic. Her work has primarily been in short films up to this point, and you can see from this segment that it is something she does very well. The Box is about a boy who looks into a gift box belonging to a man on the subway. From that moment on he completely loses any desire to eat for no apparent reason. The rest of the film focuses on the mother, played by Natalie Brown (The Strain, Channel Zero), as she watches her family wither away into nothingness. The makeup and practical effects used to make the son look like he’s starving to death are disturbingly realistic. This short is a slow burn into darkness that is atmospheric and somewhat melancholy. It is a beautifully done short that is also well acted, but I found myself wanting just a little more from the ending.

The Birthday Party: A woman finds her husband dead the morning of her daughter’s big birthday party. Trying not to ruin the celebration, the woman does what she can to keep the body out of sight. This short is written and directed by Annie Clark (also known as St. Vincent). While Clark is known for her music, this is her first attempt at writing and directing a short film. One of my favorite things about this short is the twisted sense of humor about it. Additionally, it had a strange, brightly-colored mid-century modern look to it that reminded me a bit of Edward Scissorhands. I also thought Melanie Lynskey (Togetherness, Up in the Air) was hilarious and relatable as the mother, Mary. This is probably the most visually stunning of the shorts in this anthology, and the most fun.

Don’t Fall: Of all the shorts in XX, Don’t Fall feels the most like a classic horror film. Written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound), this short follows a group of friends going on a hiking and camping trip in the desert. After the four friends find ancient cave paintings, one of the friends becomes possessed by a creature that was depicted in those paintings. This is by far the most frightening of the shorts, as well as the most action-packed. There are some excellent shots set up in such a way that the possessed girl appears to be doing things that should be impossible. It is easy to see how the filmmakers achieved these scenes, but it doesn’t take away from the visual impact.

Her Only Living Son: This short is written and directed by Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Jennifer’s Body) who is probably the most well known of these four women due to her previous work in horror. The story follows a mother preparing for her only son’s eighteenth birthday. In the days leading up to this we learn that her son has some sociopathic tendencies that get worse as his birthday approaches. The main aspect of this short that I really enjoyed was the sense of impending doom. Also, one could easily look at the story as an unofficial sequel to Rosemary’s Baby (and perhaps that was the intent). I thought Christina Kirk (Love is Strange, Taking Woodstock) performed the role of Cora, the mother, quite well. Despite this I still didn’t love the character. She is a bit too meek throughout most of the film and can’t muster the strength to control her son’s dangerous actions.

The aptly named XX (so named because the XX chromosomes determine female sex) is a celebration of women creating bewitching works of horror. These shorts result in a highly entertaining anthology focusing on different areas of horror. While each of them are marvelous in their own way, I would have to say my favorite segment of XX is The Birthday Party. It is quite fitting this anthology would be released during the eighth annual Women in Horror month. By watching this film you are lending your support to women who want to make a name for themselves in the horror industry by working behind the camera rather than in front of it. This is a trend I hope to see more of in the future.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10