From issues of consent and bodily autonomy, to blossoming sexuality and peer pressure, these feminist horror films deliver scares and social commentary.
Even in the bloodiest of horror films, Feminism can still be a fluid theme among all the guts and gore. From classics to modern features, women’s rights and issues are explored through the following frightful flicks.
1. Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Dir. Roman Polanski)
Rosemary’s Baby can easily be perceived as a devastating look into sexual assault by a spouse and how the marital home can become a prison for some women. Rosemary’s situation also explores the entrapment abused woman encounter, as she is stuck raising her demon child among a devil- worshipping cult that does not have her safety or feelings at heart.
This film came during a desperate time, since marital sexual assault wasn’t criminalized during the period of its release, and the themes are still relevant to this day — with sexual assault and domestic abuse remaining an overlooked crime that women (and men) face.
(Click here to read more about the film’s influence as both a horror film and social commentary).
2. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014, Dir. Ana Lily Amirpour)
This film flips the perception of female sexuality, as the leading lady/vampire (Sheila Vand) uses her sexuality as an advantage rather than a weakness. She also challenges the common perceptions surrounding the ‘overly-sexualised female vampire’ since she is not depicted as a victim or slave of her own sexuality (and lust for blood), but a woman who is in control of her body and is not punished for it.
She also rarely uses her sexuality for her own gain, mostly using it to punish men who seek to harm her or other women — for example, helping Atti (Mozhan Marnò) by ensuring she is compensated for the crimes the male characters commit against her.
If that isn’t enough, director Ana Lily Amirpour creates a dark and alluring atmosphere throughout the film, with contrasting visuals and moody music – making for an insightful and beautiful film.
3. The Babadook (2014, Dir. Jennifer Kent)
Jennifer’s Kent’s The Babadook explores the struggles of single motherhood and the grieving process, with the monstrous Babadook himself embodying heroine Amelia’s attempts to ignore her declining mental state. Additionally, the limited help she receives from police, social workers and others alludes to the lack of assistance single parents and the mentally ill receive in the real world.
The film succeeds in its ability to frighten the audience without ever having to fully show its monster, allowing for the Babadook to become an adaptable creature befitting to the audience’s grim imagination.
4. Teeth (2007, Dir. Mitchell Lichtenstein)
Femme fatals and other sexually-confident characters have used their sexuality as weapons rather than allowing it to become their weakness, but Teeth transforms this idea into a literal sense. After becoming a victim to male violence, high-school student Dawn (played by Jess Weixler) discovers that she has a physical advantage over the men who attempt to assault her.
Her case of vagina dentata gives her the power so many women wish they could possess — a safety blanket, or in this case, a set of teeth, to protect and avenge against violent offenders. The film also ensures that any man who attempts to assault Dawn is rightfully punished for their crime, leaving a stern warning to anyone who does not consider the importance and necessity of consent.
Gruesome and empowering, this film is explorative in story and shocking in visuals, ensuring the message is promptly received.
5. Raw (2016, Dir. Julia Ducournau)
Raw is a French horror film that centers around a very gruesome coming-of-age story and the common dilemma of feeling different amongst a ‘normal’ crowd. It focuses on a young freshman and vegetarian named Justine who beings to develop cannibalistic urges after she is forced to eat meat at a college hazing.
The film could easily reflect the horrid expectations society places on women, as Justine is constantly forced to complete several degrading tasks in order to appease her classmates. These tasks range from eating meat and organs to making out with strangers – all of which increase her lust for human flesh.
However, despite her inhuman desires, Justine is presented as somewhat human. She is not a killer, she’s just different. She never goes out of her way to hurt someone and always attempts to put other’s safety above her urges. Her struggle to come to terms with her strange longings presents her as a simply frightened, confused and lonely young woman trying to fit into a society that won’t accept her.
The film presents this premise with grace, a line-up of befitting animal imagery and, of course, a lot of blood.
Top Five Honorable Mentions:
- The Love Witch (2016) – Dir. Anna Biller
- May (2002) – Dir. Lucky McKee
- Hush (2016) – Dir. Mike Flanagan
- Ginger Snaps (2000) – Dir. John Fawcett
- The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) – Dir. Amy Holden Jones