Revenge is, inherently, a horrific thing. It’s an untenable, short-term solution, a quick fix to satiate the inalienable feeling of being wronged. Pluck out enough eyes, and things get dark pretty quick.
A good deal of horror films concern female-helmed vengeance. Women, after all, have a lot to be angry about. If all wronged women settled injustice with blood debts, the world would be a savage place indeed. After all, feminine rage comes in all shades and flavors, from the calculated sadism of Audition’s Asami to Pamela Voorhees’ hack and slash. It can be quiet and slick, theatrical and brutish. Sky’s the limit.
Below we’ve assembled our list of the top ten vengeful ladies of horror, each hellbent on righting wrongs by letting in a violent and avenging spirit, usually at a price. Keep reading for a look at the top ten vengeful women of horror as voted on by Chris Coffel, Kieran Fisher, Brad Gullickson, Rob Hunter, Jacob Trussell, and myself… and then join us all October long for a new Top 10 list each day celebrating our love of horror movies and dark genre fare.
10. Hard Candy (2005)
Some movies which center around vengeance plots pose moral dilemmas. Do we side with people who have no qualms about killing if they’re justified in their actions? Should we let the law handle it? In movies like Hard Candy, it’s hard not to sympathize with the actions of the killer. The story follows a 14-year-old girl who captures a pedophile then proceeds to make him pay for his crimes. Ellen Page’s performance as the teenage protagonist is brilliant and ruthless. She’s terrifying, despite having noble intentions. Enter at your own risk. — Kieran Fisher
9. Ms. 45 (1981)
During her second sexual assault of the night, a mute seamstress named Thana bludgeons her assailant to death. What body parts she doesn’t store in her freezer, she sprinkles around New York City. She also keeps his .45. She uses it to shoot assailants because they keep coming and she’s had enough. Going from victim to vigilante on a hair-trigger, she starts targeting and killing men who, in her eyes, were asking for it. But revenge can make moral lines fuzzy, and after a while, her trauma becomes such that no man, however guilty, is safe. — Meg Shields
8. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)
Oldboy (2003) gets all of the attention, but for my money Park Chan-wook‘s best and most powerful film remains Lady Vengeance (followed closely by Thirst, but that’s a list for another time). Lee Yeong-ae gives a lead performance that’s both terrifying and heartbreaking in its determination. There’s a direct crime she’s seeking vengeance for, but she shares a partial culpability that balances her rage with guilt. As her intricately thought out plan falls into place a painful discovery leads her to do something most revenge-seekers wouldn’t dream of—she recognizes the suffering of others and shares the catharsis. Through it all, from her time in prison to her final act of violence, her greatest challenge remains in finding the strength to forgive herself. It’s a powerful theme in a film filled with such misery, and it adds gloriously to this gorgeously shot and brilliantly conceived tale of revenge. — Rob Hunter
7. Friday the 13th (1980)
A boy’s best friend is his mother as the old saying goes, and no mother is more devoted than Pamela Voorhees. Despite her scant appearances in the hockey mask-centric franchise, her indelible mark is placed on her son throughout every film. Jason may be an undead slasher, but he’s first and foremost a son who wants his mother. And in Betsy Palmer’s performance, we have a mother who isn’t conflicted about the violence she unleashes. She has iron-clad conviction that what she is doing is right. These horny counselors let her son die, and like an eye for an eye, so do they need to die too. In a way, doesn’t that make Pamela’s motivation relatable in the first Friday the 13th? What mom wouldn’t want to not only protect their child but avenge them if they neglectfully died? Maybe you wouldn’t go so far as to plunge an arrow through Kevin Bacon’s neck, but maybe you just aren’t as good of a parent as Pamela Voorhees. — Jacob Trussell
6. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Baby Jane was a woman gone mad. But her madness and her subsequent vengeance weren’t unearthed because of her sister, Blanche. Not entirely, at least. Pulling from the real-life ‘Baby June’ (whose mother would inspire Rose in the musical Gypsy), Baby Jane was a star on the vaudeville circuit, adored by her fans and overshadowing her older sister. But years later their fortunes reverse and Blanche has become the respected movie star while Jane is slowly forgotten. It’s this that is the root of her fury. Baby Jane was a woman mad at a world for loving something more than herself. She wanted that power, that adoration back, but because she had a latent mental illness (and believed she had paralyzed her sister), she squandered it with alcohol. And under the perception that she will be sent to a psych ward, instead of facing her own dark truths, she regresses further into her Baby Jane character, lashing out at Blanche in cruel and torturous ways. While the film is best remembered for the grotesque performance by Bette Davis, it’s the extent of Baby Jane’s depravity that I ultimately find most chilling. — Jacob Trussell
5. Les Diaboliques (1955)
In Henri-Georges Clouzot‘s masterpiece of mystery and suspense, two women— a long-suffering wife and a pissed off mistress—concoct a plan to murder the fuckboy who’s been making their lives a misery. After that their troubles will be over, right? Not quite. The body disappears shortly after the deed is done and sets off a terrifying chain of events. One of the women has a separate agenda, but giving away further details would be criminal on my part. Go in blind and come out with your mind blown. — Kieran Fisher
4. Audition (1999)
Cue the music: “I was made for lovin’ you baby/you were made for lovin’ me.” And when you fall so deeply, you love them with your whole body. The eyes, the lips, the tongue, the fingers…the feet…the toes. Trip in your affection and you’re not worthy of your own self. At least, that’s how Asami sees it. She is just one of several pretty faces that middle-aged bore Shigeharu Aoyama auditions during a desperate search for human affection in the wake of his wife’s death. Once put through the process, Asami demands every ounce of his adulation. To dare to love another, even his son is an egregious offense. In failing her, Aoyama forfeits his right to his body. Goodbye eyes. So long tongue. Welcome to the sack. — Brad Gullickson
3. Death Proof (2007)
Modern movies that try to recreate the grindhouse films of the 70s almost always fail. They typically lack the authenticity that those older drive-in flicks had. In 2007, Quentin Tarantino came damn close when he partnered with Robert Rodriguez for a double feature fittingly titled Grindhouse. Tarantino’s segment is an undisputed masterpiece starring Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, a lunatic that stalks and kills women with his kick-ass Chevy Nova. During an epic and intense car chase, he runs into four ladies—played by Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thomas, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Zoe Bell—that turn the tables and chase back. The exciting conclusion, which follows a number of breathtaking feats performed by Bell, proves that these four badass ladies are the one stunt that Mike can’t quite pull off. — Chris Coffel
2. Carrie (1976)
Sixteen-year-olds don’t really need an excuse to go ham on the vengeance front but Carrie’s bullies didn’t exactly give her a reason to hold back. Carrie is abused on all fronts: at school, by fear-sniffing classmates, and at home by a religious mother with a penchant for fanaticism. When Carrie is denied a rare moment of joy by a cruel prank, she loses control and dissociates into an agent of chaos: unleashing her fury on the guilty and innocent alike. Horror in Carrie grows as a direct result of pressurized hatred; of a struggling kid pushed to the edge and lashing out. Carrie’s suffering is undoubtedly shitty, but Brian De Palma is sure to remind us that revenge, too, is a terrible thing. — Meg Shields
1. Lady Snowblood (1973)
Most revenge films feature a character seeking vengeance for a wrong committed against someone else, but Toshiya Fujita‘s masterpiece of genre cinema takes that idea a step further. His film’s hero, Yuki (an intense Meiko Kaji), was conceived for the express purpose of revenge. She’s raised by female criminals, trained to be a killer, and set loose into the world. Her justice is as cold as her name—Yuki means “snow”— but far bloodier, and Fujita captures it all with equal parts beauty and pathos. The film’s forty-five years old now, but its mesmerizing effect hasn’t lost an ounce of bite. — Rob Hunter