Traditionally, horror has been a genre heavily defined by its gender roles; masked killers are usually male, their victims have traditionally been “bad girls” who engage in activities that society has in the past viewed as shameful.
The Monstrous-Feminine is a term coined by film theorist Barbara Creed in her 1993 book The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis wherein she argues that female horror villains take on fundamentally different archetypes than male horror villains, tying the roles that women play as villains back to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of sexual deference and his demarcation of female sexuality as dangerous; this is seen most obviously in Creed’s writing on the Monstrous Womb and Vagina Dentata. At this point, I feel it is important to mention that Creed’s writing is entirely focused on cisgender bodies, especially when Freudian theories become involved.
I won’t get too heavily into Creed’s theories here as I don’t want to spend too long with the intro at risk of writing several hundred words before even starting to write about my first recommendation but I highly suggest checking out Creed’s work as well as an essay by Aviva Briefel entitled Monster Pains: Masochism, Menstruation, and Identification in the Horror Film if you’re interested in reading more about gender roles and horror, admittedly, that essay is very much written from a cis perspective. As well, if you’re interested in discussing this further and/or have your own recommendations for further reading please don’t hesitate to reach out either through my email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, I would love to hear your thoughts and get more perspectives on this.
Carrie (1976), dir. Brian De Palma, United States
(CW: Carrie contains scenes of religious abuse)
BrianDe Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name is a classic. Carrie is about a sheltered girl raised by her deeply religious abusive mother who discovers that she has telekinetic powers. One of the best adaptations of King’s work, while very male gaze-y, Carrie is incredible.
The prom scene alone is enough to declare this movie a masterpiece. As soon as Carrie is doused in pig’s blood, the previously swelling score cuts out as the only sounds present become that of dripping blood and the clang of a bucket as it drops, the sound cutting back in as soon as the bucket has fallen with the laughter of the prom attendees combining with lines from early in the movie, including a loop of Carrie’s mother saying “they’re all going to laugh at you”. The entire time, Sissy Spacek is incredible switching from anguish to wrath in the blink of an eye as the entire scene becomes drenched in red from the lights. The panic combined with Carrie’s quieter rage is masterfully done.
As I said, Carrie is one of the best adaptations of King’s work.
Teeth (2007), dir. Mitchell Lichtenstein, United States
(CW: Teeth contains scenes of sexual assault)
Teeth is a movie about a girl who has teeth in her vagina. It’s also a movie directed by a man, as so many of the movies on this list are (I am once again begging for more female-directed horror movies about monstrous women).
The protagonist, Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler), discovered that she has teeth in her vagina after biting off her rapist’s penis. Again, I would rather this movie had not been directed and written by a man. Dawn is continually assaulted by men only for her vagina to bite off their penises. Eventually, she realizes that her teeth only come out when she isn’t consenting to the intercourse.
As the movie progresses, Dawn continues to be assaulted by different men, killing each of them in turn until eventually, she begins to use her teeth to seek revenge on those who have wronged her, starting with her stepbrother Brad.
Teeth is far from perfect, it’s no Jennifer’s Body and it honestly never had a chance to be that. Instead, Teeth is an entry in the “Good For Her” Cinematic Universe that is brought down by the fact that it’s written and directed by a man.
Ginger Snaps (2000), dir. John Fawcett, Canada
(CW: Ginger Snaps contains simulated images of suicide)
Ginger Snaps is about a pair of sisters named Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins) who hate the suburb they live in and have vowed to either get out or die together by age 16. While on the way to kidnap the school bully’s dog, Ginger gets her first period and is attacked by a werewolf who was drawn to her by the scent of blood.
Over the course of the movie, Ginger undergoes a transformation as she takes on the curse of the werewolf. She becomes more aggressive, begins to heal at an accelerated rate, hair grows from her scars, she grows a tail, and she begins to experience heavier periods. Basically, Ginger Snaps is a movie about puberty and how the changes that the body undergoes are at times terrifying.
Ginger Snaps is easily one of the best Canadian horror movies ever and is well worth a watch.
Jennifer’s Body (2009), dir. Karen Kusama, United States
(CW: Jennifer’s Body contains depictions of violence against women, ableist language, and some gore)
Originally a flop, Jennifer’s Body has, much like the title character, been resurrected, only rather than becoming a succubus, the movie has become viewed as a cult classic feminist horror film. It’s easy to see why considering that the title character is a teenage girl who was taken advantage of by men who wanted to get ahead, something that is very relevant, even over ten years later.
Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Karen Kusama, Jennifer’s Body is above all else, funny. It strikes that delicate balance between horror and comedy and hits the very rare sweet spot between the two. I could say so much about Jennifer’s Body but I’ll just say one more thing: it’s one of those movies that I have never forgotten. If you haven’t watched it yet, take this as your chance to do so. If you’ve seen it before, use this as an excuse to watch it again.
Raw (2016), dir. Julia Ducournau, France
(CW: Raw contains scenes of cannibalism)
This is the second time I’ve featured Raw and that’s because it’s good and you need to watch it immediately.
If this is your first time joining us, a quick recap on Raw. Raw is a 2016 French horror film about a first-year veterinary student who, up until a hazing ritual gone wrong results in an intense craving for meat, has been a vegetarian her entire life. The movie follows Justine (Garance Marillier) as her craving intensifies to the point that she craves human flesh.
Raw is bloody and atmospheric and easily one of my favourite horror movies. It’s also the first foreign-language film that I ever saw and for that reason, it holds a very special place in my heart.