Horror films are commonly seen as one of the most sexist film genres; utilizing the voyeuristic male gaze, objectifying the female body, and reveling in helpless women being victimized. I am not discounting these claims, but horror has the potential to be more than that: films which subvert the genre’s sexism and incorporate strong, distinct female characters do exist. Some of the films on this list are reductive and infuriating at times but they attempt to show a different side of horror and affirm that the female perspective has a place in the horror landscape.
10. Audition (aka Odishon)
Ryo (Shigeharu Aoyama) is a middle-aged widower looking for a new partner. His friend convinces him that he should audition potential mates and choose who he wants. Ryo claims he is searching for someone confident, yet chooses the seemingly obedient and passive Asami (Eihi Shiina). Appearances may be deceiving. Though the film is more focused on Ryo, it is his degrading treatment of women in general that is the most important aspect of the film.
The slasher subgenre’s first film, Halloween’s menace takes the form of Michael Myers. However, Halloween is Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) story. A shy wallflower surrounded by nubile airheads, she comes into her own in the the film. While fighting for her life she realizes the strength and resourcefulness she possesses, making her horror cinema’s archetypical final girl; the girl smart enough to survive till the end of the film.
8. Rosemary’s Baby
Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes) are a young couple who just moved into a new apartment. The neighbors are awfully nosy and Rosemary’s husband becomes more distant and patronizing. Rosemary gets pregnant under dubious circumstances and senses that something is wrong with the baby but no one will listen to her. Everyone around her believes her to be an over-sensitive and paranoid woman while she fights for autonomy over her own body.
7. Inside (aka A L’interieur)
The pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) recently lost her husband in a car accident. Alone at home on one fateful night, she gets the wrong kind of visitor in the form of a homicidal woman (Beatrice Dalle). Inside is perhaps not the most empowering or progressive of films, but it is one of the most taught, suspenseful 82 minutes ever caught on celluloid.
6. The Craft
Nancy (Robin Tunney) moves to a new town after her mother’s death and struggles to fit in. She falls in line with a group of young women who are rumored to be witches. Nancy is, in fact, a born witch. The freaky foursome test their prowess in matters of the occult which brings them closer together. They grow stronger by the day, and negative emotions get magnified. The Craft sheds a positive light on female sisterhood and tackles female teen issues in a frank manner (an over-the-top climax notwithstanding).
Chaste Dawn (Jess Weixler) has an inkling that she is not like most girls. Faced with violent and despicable men all around her, she may begin to use that to her advantage. Though the dangerous, castrating woman is a sexist trope, the fact that we witness Dawn’s transformation from her perspective marks a certain twist on the age-old tale.
4. The Woman
Family man and lawyer Chris Cleek (Sean Bridges) eyes a “wild” woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) while hunting. He proceeds to confine her to his shed where he wants to “civilize” her for reasons that remain unknown. He introduces the woman to his family and Chris’s behavior becomes more bizarre and off-putting from that point onwards. The two main male characters, the father and son, are the real uninhibited beasts.
3. The Descent
A group of old friends go on a cave expedition; marking a new beginning after a tough year. They are all competent explorers, but are all of them good people? The cave transpires to be nothing short of a death trap, which is when loyalties, betrayals, and their true nature come to the fore.
2. Bedevilled (aka Kim Bok-nam salinsageonui jeonmal)
A young banker (Seong-won Ji) takes a (forced) vacation on the tiny, isolated island she knows from her childhood. Her childhood friend, Kim Bok-nam (Yeong-hie Seo) remembers her fondly and has tried to contact her through the years, to no avail. The back-breaking hard labor and the community’s overt sexism and mistreatment of Bok-nam gradually sends her over the edge. The oppressive social setting is set up so believably that it is incredibly gratifying, if distasteful, to watch its destruction.
1. Ginger Snaps
Brigit (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) are two sisters who take morbid photographs and enjoy the darker things in life. One day, their life takes a drastic turn for the worse. Ginger gets her first period, and as if dealing with her looming womanhood was not confusing enough, she gets bitten by a werewolf. It is up to Brigit to try and save her before it is too late. The obvious parallels between the respective lunar cycles and bodily transformations are effective as well as the characterization of multidimensional, troubled young women.
Written by Eli Lewy who also blogs at www.film-nut.tumblr.com