As Needy Lesnicki from ‘Jennifer’s Body’ famously said, “Hell is a teenage girl.” These films embody the turmoil and terror of teenage girlhood.
The line penned by the iconic screenwriter Diablo Cody rings true…hell really is a teenage girl. Teen girls have long been the heroines of countless horror films, fighting unimaginable evils and fighting against the pressures of an often cold and volatile society. Here are 13 films that embody the idea that hell is a teenage girl. These films encompass the pains, awkwardness, and downright cruelty that can come with being an adolescent girl. This list offers everything from budding psychopaths, blood soaked survivors, outright monsters, and retribution seeking victims.
A young girl can be whatever she wants to be whether it’s the heroine or the villain of her story, and this list reflects that. Enjoy these tales of teenage feminine terror.
1. Jennifer’s Body (2009) – Director: Karyn Kusama
Karyn Kusama helms a biting and refreshing horror comedy that looks right into the heart of teenage terror. The film is built around best friends Needy and Jennifer and their ultimately unhealthy codependent relationship. The already borderline volatile friendship turns even more toxic when Jennifer becomes possessed by a demon after becoming a botched sacrifice to Satan by a nefarious emo boy band.
Jennifer’s Body is witty and insightful as well as funny. There’s a lot of layers to the movie that has long been dismissed by critics and audiences alike. It’s definitely a movie that needs to be reassessed and it deserves all the mounting retroactive praise that it has been receiving in the past two or so years. It’s a triumph and speaks to the talents of director Kusama and writer Diablo Cody.
2. Ginger Snaps (2000) – Director: John Fawcett
This rightfully beloved cult Canadian werewolf flick meshes cis female puberty with lycanthropy with eerie and interesting results. Teenage girlhood can often feel monstrous, and Ginger Snaps captures that feeling perfectly. Sisters Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald are outcasts and often targets of bullying by the high school’s more popular students. One night when attempting to exact revenge on one of their cruel peers, Ginger gets her period and attracts the attention of a werewolf who subsequently attacks her.
The attack sets into motion a tragic series of events that leaves Brigitte caught in a race against time to save her sister. As Ginger starts to rapidly transform into a werewolf she finds herself consumed with an insatiable lust for carnage and destruction. The film boasts two exceptional performances from Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins as Ginger and Brigitte. This is a movie that only gets better with age, much like Jennifer’s Body does.
3. Carrie (1976) – Director: Brian De Palma
Sissy Spacek takes on the iconic role of Carrie White in the first—and what is widely considered the definitive—adaptation of Stephen King’s masterful novel. Carrie is the abused daughter of a mentally unstable religious zealot who cannot find any reprieve from her life at home or at school. Upon getting her first period and being publicly humiliated for not knowing what was happening to her, Carrie discovers that she has telepathic powers and starts to hone them. As a result of the bullying, the girls involved are banned from attending prom.
In an attempt to make a nice gesture, Sue Snell asks her boyfriend Tommy Ross to take Carrie to prom as a way to make up for Sue and the other girls tormenting her when she got her period. Meanwhile, Chris Hargensen has a more nefarious plot in store for Carrie, one that will lead to a quite literally explosive conclusion and some oh so bloody revenge on literally everyone who has ever wronged Carrie. It’s also worth checking out the 2002 television version of Carrie, penned by none other than Bryan Fuller, and the 2013 adaptation directed by the fantastic Kimberly Peirce.
4. Raw (2016) – Director: Julia Ducournau
College is supposed to be a time for exploration and self-discovery. But for Justine, it quickly becomes a nightmare when she arrives at the veterinarian school that her older sister currently attends and her parents attended. Justine comes from a family that is strictly vegetarian and has never eaten meat. During a hazing ritual that all new students are forced to undergo, Justine is made eat a raw rabbit kidney. The rabbit kidney awakens a hunger within Justine that she didn’t know she possessed, one that causes her to crave human flesh.
This artfully told cannibal film meditates on inherited family afflictions and sibling rivalries. It has elements that are reminiscent of Ginger Snaps, particularly the friction between a pair of two close in age sisters. Raw is a stunning feature from French director Julia Ducournau who meditates on the different types of hunger that a person has, all the while telling an engaging cannibal tale.
5. The Loved Ones (2009) – Director: Sean Byrne
The Loved Ones gives us a vastly underrated teenage girl villain, and it’s my duty to share the brilliance of this movie and the character Lola Stone with the world. After being turned down by Brent for the big dance, Lola and her equally deranged father kidnap Brent and make him the guest of honor at their own party — which involves torture and about as many freaky incestuous undertones that one can shove into a film. Lola is utterly despicable but she’s also wildly entertaining, and Robin McLeavy’s performance is electrifying in all the right ways.
Lola is a fun villain and is unabashedly girly and spoiled. She’s a refreshing departure from the daddy’s girl archetype that is so often given the role of the damsel of the ingénue. The viewer is quickly pulled into Lola’s pink-tinged, blood-soaked world. There’s several absolutely bonkers twists in this one and inventive torture to keep the attention and make one wrinkle their nose with pure disgust.
6. Assassination Nation (2018) – Director: Sam Levinson
Assassination Nation forms a commentary on modern social warfare against teenage girls. The film follows a group of four tight-knit friends that are thrust into societal chaos when members of their town start to have their deepest secrets outed as a result of an anonymous hacker. As it all starts to unfold and spiral out of control, the girls have to fight for their lives against a town that has turned on them.
Assassination Nation is a riff off of older exploitation films while also being a biting and timely satire of the misogynist culture that young girls are brought up in. The girls in the film prove to be a diverse group that include a young trans woman, whose arc is portrayed in an artful and interesting way and above all in a respectful manner — easily setting the film apart from others. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is the kind of commentary that is exactly needed in this era. Levinson proves to be in tune with his characters and the genre that he is working with. It’s a keen film that doesn’t shy away from the violence that teen girls are often subjected to.
7. Tragedy Girls (2017) – Director: Tyler MacIntyre
Tragey Girls is part commentary on our cultural obsession with anything dark and tragic and part dark comedy that follows two young bloggers who are thirsty for a taste of sensationalist fame. Sadie and McKayla will stop at nothing in order to boost the popularity of their blog Tragedy Girls. Their sheer desperation for attention and notoriety causes them to cross paths with a serial killer, kidnap him, and even commit some heinous crimes in the process.
It’s a fun movie, but it’s also an extremely dark one. Tragedy Girls would pair extremely well with a watching of Jennifer’s Body, All Cheerleaders Die, and The Loved Ones. The film stars the extremely talented Deadpool darling Brianna Hildebrand as Sadie, and if that’s not enough to make you want to give the film a watch, it should be. Not to mention both leads are women of color, and that in itself is impressive and noteworthy.
8. The Craft (1996) – Director: Andrew Fleming
The Craft is perhaps one of the classic films when it comes to the whole idea of “hell is a teenage girl.” The Craft is one of those rightfully revered teen girl horror films that will never not have a place in this extremely specific canon. The film famously follows four teenage girls, social outcasts for various reasons, who form a coven. While it might seem like a daydream for most girls who find themselves on the fringes of society, for the foursome it soon turns into a nightmare when all their magical deeds soon have dangerous repercussions.
The Craft is a perfect example of a film that’s genius wasn’t recognized upon its release, and as a result it was subjected to middling reviews that missed many of the points of the film. As the years have passed, The Craft has rightfully become a cult classic.
9. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) – Director: David Lynch
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is one of those films that people either love or hate. I am personally one of the former. The film serves as a prequel to Lynch’s brilliant television series and gives us a glimpse into the chaotic last days of Laura Palmer. Fire Walk with Me is an affecting piece, one that magnifies suburban and domestic terror and follows a character that, while we know she is doomed to a horrid fate, we want a better end for.
Laura Palmer is a fully fleshed out character and is played with devastated efficacy by Sheryl Lee. It’s a lot to take in a times because of its heavy handed subject matter mixed with the supernatural, but it doesn’t make it any less deserving of a watch and perhaps a bit of reevaluation. Teenage girlhood can be as distressing as the life and death of Laura, and it needs to be said that not all girls will live to see 20. It’s a chilling thought and the film meditates on the ice cold terror of a short life that was lived hard and snuffed out far too soon. The viewer wants a happy ending for Laura Palmer because Lynch himself wants one for her too. But as we all know, there are not always happy endings to be had.
10. All Cheerleaders Die (2013) – Directors: Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson
Lucky McKee teams up with Chris Sivertson to remake their low budget feature from 2001. The film follows Maddy, a young woman whose search for revenge on one of the football players leads her down a path that results in several dead cheerleaders, including her, and their mystical and improbable resurrection brought upon by Maddy’s witchy ex-girlfriend. The cheerleaders’ unlikely revival comes with a soul-sucking, man-eating price.
All Cheerleaders Die is a blast. It might be as deep or as nuanced and McKee’s magnum opus May, but it’s still definitely worth a watch. Plus, like Jennifer’s Body, it has LGBT+ themes, and it manages to avoid the gross ‘bury your gays’ trope that often plagues media where lesbian characters are at the forefront.
11. The Dark (2018) – Director: Justin P. Lange
The Dark is a deeply emotional and affecting movie. A dead teenage girl named Mina, who is now a revenant of sorts, lives in the dilapidated ruins of her old house in the forest and has to live off the flesh of others. A pedophile who is traveling with a teen boy, his kidnapped victim, makes the mistake of traveling through the woods where Mina resides. She unwittingly saves the boy by killing and feasting on his captor. The boy has been brutally blinded and has extensive scarring on his face. Mina, a victim of sexual abuse herself, recognizes a kindred spirit in the boy and takes it upon herself to lead him out of the woods.
The Dark is an extremely exceptional piece of media that explores the themes of trauma and is especially sympathetic to Mina and her plight. Her backstory is one that is all too real and familiar to many women. While the premise is macabre, the film is hopeful. It’s a story very much grounded in the idea of healing and having hope for a better future.
12. Pyewacket (2017) – Director: Adam MacDonald
Teenage Leah’s father has died leaving her angst ridden and her mother grieving. Leah has a deep interest in the occult and black magic. The conflict that has been steadily mounting between mother and daughter comes to a head when her mother announces that she is packing up and moving from the only home that Leah has ever known. Leah is stunned and upset at the prospect of moving and losing the connections with the few friends that she has. As the fights with her mom become tenser, Leah goes out to the woods and summons a demon named Pyewacket to kill her mother.
When it seems that the two might be on the way to reconciling and rebuilding their relationship, Pyewacket torments Leah and her mother. Pyewacket is a creepy offering and a look at rash decisions made in anger and regret. Being a teenage girl is difficult enough without having a demon you summoned to kill your mother breathing down your neck. The film features great performances from Nicole Muñoz and Laurie Holden.
13. Excision (2012) – Director: Richard Bates Jr.
AnnaLynne McCord plays a disturbed aspiring surgeon named Pauline in this twisted flick. Pauline has an obsession with blood and delusional tendencies. She is often plagued with bloody visions and her own psychosexual tinged fantasies. As if Pauline’s fragile mentality and burgeoning sexuality wasn’t enough for her to deal with, her beloved younger sister is gravely ill due to cystic fibrosis.
Excision is one of those films that is difficult to predict and is best going into with little knowledge about it. McCord gives one beautifully unhinged performance as Pauline’s sanity starts to erode completely. It’s definitely a unique film that’s not talked about nearly as much as it should be.
Horror Adjacent Honorable Mentions:
While not exactly horror, these films will appeal to horror fans and deal with the absolutely hellacious feat that is teenage girlhood.
- Heavenly Creatures (1994) – Director: Peter Jackson
- Heathers (1988) – Director: Michael Lehmann
- Thoroughbreds (2017) – Director: Cory Finley