We explore what it means to be feminist horror and look at five of the best female villains without a man or purely revenge-driven agenda.
Feminist horror. Can’t we just say “horror”?
It’s the dreaded F word. Whether it’s in books, politics, or social media, the word “feminist” itself seems to, in my experience, get a lot of people ramped up for a lot of reasons.
Many years ago, I read an article about ‘feminist porn’. And as a woman who was sick of mainstream porn that was always made for men, by men, the term was exciting to learn about. When I mentioned it to a straight man, he said, “wow, feminist porn, that’s terrifying.”
He wasn’t the only man who seemed to have this stance* — and that was worrisome to me.
*(But not all men, because I CAN’T forget to say that, or the anti-woke mob will come after me, and I don’t have a lot of time or energy to give them.)
I didn’t understand what it was about the idea of a woman enjoying sex that would be offensive to men.
Later, I became more obsessed with horror and film in general.
And only recently did I have the most profound realization: there aren’t enough well-known female villains in horror.
I can’t say if this results from the male gaze, our patriarchal society, or something else.
I honestly don’t have a definitive answer to this. However, when you see popular horror merchandise, how many female-bodied killers are as visible as Jason, Freddy, or Michael? I can find a Chucky T-shirt nearly anywhere. But to find, for example, Ginger Snaps merchandise, I have to dig (or have something custom-made, usually by a woman).
My theory is that if society can’t even accept a woman having an orgasm without it being a threat to manhood, how could they even accept a woman being scary, menacing, or murderous? Furthermore, how would they even feel entertained by it?
(Not all of society, duh)
Perhaps it’s just too scary. Or perhaps ladies just aren’t seen as menacing enough to be scary. How can we wrap our heads around the idea of a woman being scary — and not in an “I’m getting revenge on a man” kind of way or a “sexy scary” way?
We’re supposed to be docile, nurturing creatures. Be anything but that, and you’ll be labeled… well, as a villain. A “nasty woman”.
Many women are finding their voices and wearing this label as a badge of pride, and that’s great because it’s 2023. Witch trials should be over with by now.
This is why trying to make a list of actual female villains — a Boogeyman in lady form — was initially difficult for me.
Most of the time, when I ask someone to suggest a female “villain”, I end up hearing things like Carrie or American Mary. Yeah, these ladies killed people, but those are revenge plots. Their murderous rampages are retaliation for something another person, usually, a man, did to them. To me, that’s a lot different than a ruthless killer like Freddy Krueger or Chucky.
I think there are a lot of people who can’t name many female killers in a film who aren’t motivated by revenge or connected to a male-bodied person; women who are just pure evil for the sake of being evil.
However, of course, I did make a list.
These films are often branded by people as “feminist horror” because, for some reason, being a woman who kills people is the same thing as women wanting basic human rights. Weird, but okay.
All semantics aside, I’m not here for any sort of sociopolitical agenda. I’m here to talk about my favorite female villains in horror. If that’s a “feminist” act, then, hey, happy Women’s Month!
Here is a list of my top 5 killer ladies in horror who I strongly believe anyone of any gender could appreciate and why I think they belong on this list:(If you haven’t seen these yet, I’m sorry, but SPOILER ALERT.)
1. Jennifer Check, “Jennifer’s Body” (2009)
Some might argue that this is also a “revenge thing” because there was an attempt on her life that turned her into the half-demon she became. However, Jennifer was always a “mean girl”. She was rude, crude, and drop-dead gorgeous.
Played by the notorious Megan Fox, Jennifer is your typical “queen bee” in high school, and people fear her as much as they want to touch her. Ripping apart common high school boys without remorse, Jennifer isn’t just “high school evil”; she’s truly evil.
I ate this movie up like Jennifer ate up several unsuspecting teenage boys throughout the course of the film. And I’m gonna stop here because I could rave about this film for hours.
2. Tiffany, “Bride of Chucky” (1998)
Anyone who knows me was probably aware that Tiffany would end up on this list.
There’s something about Tiffany that is so endearing that I felt almost desensitized to the fact that she kills people. Maybe it was her love for Martha Stewart, or maybe it was simply because she was an absolute bombshell. Tiffany always stood by her man, but she also stood up for herself.
This blonde babe was just as humorous as she was ruthless, making Bride of Chucky a joyride full of blood and laughs from beginning to end.
3. Auntie Lee, “Auntie Lee’s Meat Pies” (1992)
I’ll die on this hill: Karen Black was a God. Goddess? Whatever.
I was actually torn between Auntie Lee and Mama Firefly (House of 1000 Corpses, Devil’s Rejects), but I don’t think House of 1000 Corpses would exist without this film. Lee and her gorgeous daughters entice men into the comfort of their home, only to chop them up and turn them into delicious meat pies. The more absurd a movie is, the more I want to watch it, and this movie portrayed absurdity so well.
If you haven’t seen this one before, I urge you to add it to your watch list.
4. Asami, “Audition” (1999)
Honestly, I can’t even put this in the “good for her” genre.
Of course, anyone in Asami’s position would want revenge if they thought they were going to a film audition only to find that the “director” was just hoping to get laid. However, this woman is just as sadistic as she is beautiful.
The term “femme fatale” is taken to a whole new level while she tortures an unsuspecting widow in ways that filled me with dread the entire time.
5. The Queen Mother, “Alien” (1979)
This was a difficult list to narrow down to only five favorites, but it wouldn’t be complete without the classic Queen Mother Alien.
It would be impossible to list all of the reasons why she belongs on this list without taking up the space for a whole new article. Everything about her presence in the film was terrifying. The Queen was menacing enough based on her looks alone, but she was also big, strong, and intelligent.
This monster is horror royalty and absolutely deserves to be on this list.
Were any of the above films actually “feminist horror”? I’m not sure. But I do know that the ladies I’ve listed are exactly what the best nightmares are made of.