Super Bowl Sunday is still the talk of the town, but that doesn’t mean we have to go into full-on Neanderthal mode. We’re here to prove that it’s not just a man’s world by showing some love to women in horror who made our skins crawl.
When you think of horror icons, automatically the names of Freddy, Jason and Michael slash their way to the front. In fact, the structure of slasher films themselves is based around a stalker chasing a female heroine. So it would be understandable to assume the best horror starts with a male figure piling up a body count. But hell and horror hath no fury like a woman scorned, and the entire body of the horror genre is flowing with the blood spilled by great female villains. In fact, female villains turn the slasher genre on its head, as the ultimate goal in most of those films is to penetrate the female. So what happens when the knife is turned back on the male? Are you uncomfortable yet? Good, we have your attention.
One can go back to the 30s to watch Freaks, a film that stands as one of the true oddities of cinema, and see an old-school case of gold-digging that would make Kanye West shudder. Cleopatra’s (Olga Baclanova) hatred and exploitation of the circus side-show acts shows a cruelty that reverses our aversion to those different than us. In the same decade, we were offered Elsa Lanchester’s role in The Bride of Frankenstein, an unforgettable film for any horror fan.
While those performances aren’t necessarily branded in our horror consciousness, they paved the way for other characters to give performances to die for. The beauty of many female villains is that there exists a complexity to the character. While Mike Myers is unquestionably terrifying by being pure evil, characters like Regan in The Exorcist offer a duality to who we are seeing on-screen. Is she a victim, is she a villain? All we know is Linda Blair nearly made us piss ourselves by doing the Devil’s work in all her possessed projectile vomiting glory.
Of course, some of the greatest horrors of all-time were led by the female persuasion. Alfred Hitchcock studied the effects an overbearing mother can have on Norman Bates in Psycho. Piper Laurie’s turn as the religious fanatic Margaret White proved in Carrie that there are other great villains in Stephen King horrors other than The Shining and that you shouldn’t screw with a girl on prom night. Kathy Bates would expand to the King-dom of cruelty, winning a Best Actress Oscar as Annie Wilkes, an obsessed novelist’s fan in Misery. Depending on whether you consider Alien to be a horror, The Queen saw through to the fear in our heart by reaching in and snatching it with her tongue. All four of these characters would give any male a bit of shrinkage.
Honestly, all we have to do to be reminded of the greatness that female baddies have to offer is head to camp – as if adolescence wasn’t terrifying enough on its own. For all the terror that Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask can inspire, his mother, Pamela Voorhees was the true psycho in the Friday the 13th franchise. And what film lover’s brain wouldn’t be twisted without the character of Angela Baker in Sleepaway Camp? To this day, I am weary of talks by the campfire.
The Uninvited was just released, adding to the string of remakes Hollywood has gone overseas to find, and there has been no stop to the amount of terror that women brought in return. Samara was one of the most popular villains of the past decade in Ringu/The Ring, and Kayako from Ju-on: The Grudge got some fans’ blood boiling, but we scream for Asami Yamazaki in Audition. If you haven’t seen it, go rent it, and treat yourself to a classic artistic exercise in revenge.
Marie in High Tension, Le Femme in Inside and Eli from Let the Right One In all get our votes as great foreign villains you need to know about. But if you’re looking for some new American blood, May offers a pretty bizarre twist on a girl’s obsession.
It’s unfortunate that female villains haven’t received the credit they deserve, but in the battle of the sexes they can stand their own against any hatchet wielding killer that thinks he has the brass to take them on. All we can do is appreciate the icons we’ve been offered and pray that Hollywood realizes that the amount of testosterone pumped into killers is not equivalent to the amount of terror we feel.