In the spirit of Halloween, I’ve compiled a list of the female characters in horror movies that I find most intriguing. I’m sure I’m leaving a lot of great characters out, so please leave your favorites in the comments!
10. Baby Firefly in House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects
I love that this outlandish, cartoonish villain can hold her own in a family of male serial killers and psychopaths. She bounces from acting childlike and innocent to luring in victims with her sexuality to being a ruthless murderer with a taste for blood. As far as horror villains go, Baby is a lot of fun.
9. The girls of The Craft
Didn’t you want to be one of them when that movie came out? How cool would it be to be able to use magic to make your life better and punish people who were mean to you? Fifteen years later and I still want to join this bad girl’s club.
8. The Owens women in Practical Magic
I love that this movie is all about the bonds between sisters and female family members. Sally and Gillian are sisters who are complete opposites, but would literally kill for each other. Their aunts, played by the amazing actresses Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest are also pretty badass.
7. Mrs. Bates in Psycho. *Half century old spoiler alert!*
Even though she’s long dead by the start of the movie, she’s obviously powerful. The overbearing mother trope is done to death, but this early example of it is really interesting. What do you think she was like? Is she responsible for Norman’s madness? Is Norman’s interpretation of his mother anything like the real thing? I just have so many questions!
6. Wendy Torrance in The Shining
Every performance in this movie is great, but Shelley Duvall makes Wendy very easy to empathize with. She’s trapped in the middle of nowhere with her family, and they are acting increasingly strange. Wendy is a shy, meek person and her husband becomes increasingly abusive until he snaps and tries to kill her. When timid Wendy somehow manages to save herself and her child from Jack, her character becomes downright heroic.
5. Amanda from the Saw franchise
This character is fascinating because her role changes in every movie she’s featured in. She’s a victim, a disciple of the philosophy of a serial killer, a killer herself, an addict, and someone who was failed by the justice system and corrupt police. At times it seems like she’s being manipulated and at other times she seems to be totally in control.
4. The Women of Scream
Sidney Prescott’s mother is slut shamed in the worst way. Her affairs are used as a catalyst for the killers of all of the movies in the original trilogy. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the tone of the series is “Slutty woman is just as much to blame because she ruined lives and turned people into killers,” or “People will try to pin their actions on anyone but themselves and society makes promiscuous women an easy target.” I’m open to suggestions about which way you think the movies lean.
But besides the Maureen Prescott scapegoat, there are a bunch of awesome women in these movies:
- Sidney, obviously. Sidney is a modern take on the “Final Girl” trope. She subverts the trope slightly by having sex and surviving the movie. The movie (through Randy) cracks a joke that only virgins survive horror movies, and then uses Sidney to change the rules.
- Gale Weathers is fantastic. I love that she works hard, she’s not afraid of being a bitch and that she always goes after what she wants.
- Maureen (Jada Pinkett Smith) is only briefly in Scream 2, but makes the list for her tangent about race and horror movies in the opening scene: “The horror genre is historical for excluding the African American element.” And then the movie kills her in the first scene, underuses the only other black woman in the movie, and never uses anything but white actors for the next two movies. So much for Scream subverting the typical horror tropes.
- Kirby in Scream 4 was my favorite new addition. I was prepared to hate this character because I usually find the actress who plays her irritating, but I ended up loving her. Kirby was refreshingly real and likable without being overly sweet.
3. Reagan from The Exorcist
She’s an adorable little girl, and she’s the monster that lives inside of her. I think there’s a reason why almost every exorcism movie made after this one also chose to use an underage girl as the victim of demon possession. There’s something incredibly powerful with this role, especially the dichotomy of the innocent child and the pure evil using her as a host. I’m not sure why cinema demons prefer female hosts. Perhaps it has something to do with how we live in a society that blames women for being rape victims and loves to see the “wrong” kind of women punished.
2. Rob Zombie’s Laurie Strode
I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with this one. How could I put a character from a remake of a classic horror film on here instead of the original? I promise I have a point and I’ll get to it quickly.
Laurie Strode in the original Halloween is the perfect example of a classic “Final Girl.” Jamie Lee Curtis did a great job with the part, but I’m not as intrigued by this character as I am in the remake. In Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Laurie isn’t as sweet and innocent as in the original. She makes dirty jokes and seems to fit in more with the girls she’s friends with, where the original Laurie’s friends are mostly used as drinking, sexing foils for her.
One thing that really bugs me about horror movie sequels is that the characters that have just gone through life shattering events such as watching someone butcher all their friends and narrowly escaping death seem to be a little shaken but otherwise moving on with their lives. Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 focuses primarily on Laurie’s complete breakdown after the events of the first movie. It begins with her in the hospital, recovering from her wounds, and continues to the next year, where she is still dealing with the events of the previous year and is permanently changed by them. We see Laurie go to therapy, beg for medicine to numb her pain, have meltdowns, nightmares and hallucinations, and continue to fall apart. Her friend’s facial scars from the previous halloween are a constant reminder of what happened and drive a wedge between their friendship. This gritty, uncomfortable, all too real stuff is what Zombie does best, and his re-imagining of Laurie makes her a fascinating character.
1. Asami from Audition
When I tell people about Audition, I often compare it to The Shining. Both films start out slow and peaceful and gradually build tension to work their way to a terrifying ending. Both films also feature a main character who is completely demented, but the audience is only gradually given peeks into how unhinged this character is, until all is exposed in the end.
In Audition, a widower decides to hold a fake acting audition to land a nice girlfriend. He picks Asami, a girl he thinks is pretty and sweet and they start dating. However, this tiny, demure, fragile-seeming young woman is actually capable of horrifying things. The message of this movie seems to be that a small, seemingly powerless women can be just as frightening as Freddy or Jason, if not more so. Everything about her is an exaggeration of femininity. She wears a lot of white, is very beautiful, acts demure and shy, and seems to need her new boyfriend to take care of her, revealing scars and stories of a haunted past. Is it all an act she uses to disarm her prey? I’m not sure. Even when she’s torturing her victims, she lets out girly giggles, talks in a baby voice and uses delicate looking torture devices that could arguably be described as feminine.
The most fascinating thing about this character is just how afraid men are of her. Watch this video clip and see horror directors Eli Roth, John Landis and Rob Zombie all squirm in their seats as they talk about Audition.