In honor of Women in Horror Month, we feature a full week of our best horror film recommendations featuring the most memorable and malicious killer women.
While the horror genre is infamous for its celebration of the final girl — the heroic, survivor girl who stands alone against the forces of evil — most of its villains have historically been male. Still, many women have given extremely memorable performances as sympathetic but savage killers, as well as sadistic and bloodthirsty monsters.
This week, we’ll be watching seven films (one movie a day) that feature some of our favorite female killers. We’ve chosen to highlight some of the lesser known films you may have missed, films we think you’ll really love — from foreign films to indies, with killers ranging from the supernaturally cursed to the psychologically damaged. Some kill to get what they want, and some just want to kill. We encourage you to follow along with us and share your thoughts in the comments below.
DAY 1: INSIDE (2007)
Recommended by Zach Bender
Few films deliver as intense an experience as A L’Interieur or Inside. It’s a story that showcases the duality of two women fighting for the same purpose; one to become a mother and one to remain as such. Both of the main characters give harrowing performances, particularly Beatrice Dalle as the antagonist “The Woman.” At first, she appears an even-tempered stalker bent on entering the home of expectant mother Sara but beneath her cool exterior, we find a certifiably insane woman who will go to the most extreme depraved measures to take what Sara has.
As the film progresses, we find that there is more to The Woman’s insanity. She’s plagued by the unbearable sadness of loss that’s driven her to madness. The Woman’s relentless fury puts her the same category with Misery’s Annie Wilkes and spree killer Richard Chase. She is complex in that one could be sympathetic to her plight, yet her brutality seems unfathomable and wholly unforgivable.
DAY 2: WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE (2018)
Recommended by Danni Darko
In last year’s phenomenal indie horror entry, What Keeps You Alive, written and directed by Colin Minihan (It Stains The Sands Red) he provides a character so manipulative, it’s downright scary. The film successfully taps into a fear that is as old as time; do you really know the one you’re with?
Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) are deep in the woods commemorating their anniversary and what should be a sexy, secluded celebration. But as we find out, one of the young women is not who they appear to be, and as her story unravels, so does Jackie’s carefully crafted facade she has kept up to her wife.
So completely cold and calculating is the performance from Anderson within What Keeps You Alive, it really left me stunned, causing me to look sideways uncomfortably at my own girlfriend. Jackie invokes a suspenseful, strategic and painful plan to torment her significant other throughout the film that I found truly terrifying. She was petite but powerfully focused on destroying the one she vowed to love and protect, and this was proven time and time again within Minihan’s story.
DAY 3: PREVENGE (2016)
Recommended by Patrick Krause
When someone is releasing a feature-film directing debut, one does not always expect the movie to have a big impact. Fortunately for horror fans, Alice Lowe who is the writer, director and star of PREVENGE, delivered a stark, black comedy horror film that resonates long after the first viewing.
Alice Lowe plays Ruth, a recent widow who is also 7-months pregnant. Ruth begins to hear her baby talking to her from the womb, instructing her to kill, pushing her to get revenge for a world that left her a widowed mother-to-be.
There are laughs to be found in PREVENGE, in the same way audiences can’t help but laugh when John Travolta’s Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the face in PULP FICTION. But there’s an honesty and authenticity in the story and performance by Alice Lowe that surprisingly touches on subjects like grief, depression, and dealing with moving forward from a life that’s been shattered.
PREVENGE is a unique, daring, and exciting horror film; and one that reveals more and improves upon repeated viewings. PREVENGE was released in March of 2017, and was one of the reasons that I subscribed to the Shudder streaming service. It can be watched now exclusively via Shudder at https://www.shudder.com/.
DAY 4: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)
Recommended by Todd Reed
While many people associate the real beginning of vampire legends with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and female vampires with his brides, vampires existed centuries before and the first record of a vampire story in the English language began on the same night as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with companion John Polidar’s offering of The Vampyre in 1819. The first female vampire story predates Dracula by twenty-five years with the novella Carmilla by Irish Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu in 1872 (and an inspiration for Stoker). So female vampires are hardly a new idea.
Enter Eli, the ancient, yet child-like vampire in John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel and the movie of the same name, Let the Right One In. While in the original novel, Eli is actually a boy who was castrated when he was made a vampire, Eli dresses as a girl and is portrayed by Lina Leandersson in the 2008 Swedish film (and later by Chloe Grace Moretz as Abby in the 2010 American remake Let Me In).
By all appearances, Eli is a twelve-year-old girl, shy and unassuming, which make her reveal as a blood-thirsty vampire (no sparkling here) all the more terrifying. Eli racks up an impressive body count, both to survive and especially to defend her young friend Oskar, played by Kare Hedebrant (or Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen in the U.S. version). While Eli is a killer, the heart of the movie is her growing friendship with Oskar. Beneath the killer child vampire is a lonely, young girl in search of a friend.
Let the Right One in is a phenomenal movie — definitely in my list of top ten favorites. While Let Me In felt like an unnecessary remake for audiences who refuse to watch foreign films, it, too, is a very good movie and worth checking out. I have both in my film collection.
DAY 5: M.F.A. (2017)
Recommended by Vicki Woods
M.F.A. brings us the story of Noelle, (Francesca Eastwood) a struggling art student who is sexually assaulted by a young man in one of her classes. Unable to find support from her school, community or even her best friend, she finds herself taking matters into her own hands and becomes a vigilante for herself and others wronged. This was not her initial plan, but when she attempts to confront her attacker and an accident occurs, she channels her anger into her art, transforming her previously boring work, into something full of creative passion and rage.
Francesca Eastwood (yes, actor Clint Eastwood’s daughter) blew me away with her performance. She owns this film and watching her transformation from quiet awkward girl to a vicious vigilante with a purpose in life, is riveting. Her range is truly astounding! Seeing the change in her body language and intense green eyes was so powerful! She is an acting force to be reckoned with and I expect to see her in many films in the future!
M.F.A. is at its core a psychological thriller, but for genre fans, the horror of what has happened to the young women, makes us glad Noelle seeks vengeance, we want the men to pay, and pay they do. Gore fans- do not doubt whether this is for you too, trust me, there is lots and lots of blood!
DAY 6: THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER (2015)
Recommended by Jason McFiggins
The Blackcoat’s Daughter presents a quiet, seemingly shy and somewhat awkward young girl named Kat played by Kiernan Shipka. When the impressionable Kat hears rumors of ritualistic sacrifice that took place at her boarding school years ago, her vulnerability allows an evil force to possess her body. From here we see Shipka give one the most frightening performances I have ever seen. The dark emptiness in her eyes and deliberate, subtle facial expressions are genuinely scary. When Shipka stands before a police officer with a grisly scene of dismembered heads behind her, bloodied and holding a knife, there’s a terrifying and unpredictable wildness in her eyes. It’s a performance that haunts me.
A number of years later we see Kat as a young woman, now known as Joan played by Emma Roberts. Joan has seemingly grown beyond shy to a state of fragile timidness. Without a proper coat on a frigid Winter day, Joan is offered a ride by a sincere older couple to help her get where she is going. Roberts does such a good job portraying Joan as a traumatized and fearful young woman that when she later ferociously cuts the heads off the couple in a startling and blood-soaked scene, my entire body froze up.
The truly scary brilliance of The Blackcoat’s Daughter is there are two small moments that transcend the killing and bloodshed described above and hint at the deepest of all evil. The first comes when Kat, while at her boarding school, is successfully exorcised of her evil force by a priest after the brutal decapitations she committed. After the exorcism and freed from her evil possession, Shipka does not cry out in relief nor does she look particularly happy. Instead we see her looking to the side at a dark figure and weakly, desperately begging, “don’t go.”
The second moment is when Joan is getting food at a diner with the couple that are giving her a ride. The man shows Joan a picture of his daughter who was killed and it’s revealed that she is one of the victims beheaded at the boarding school all those years ago. The man obviously does not know that Joan is responsible for his daughters death and, feeling the weight of the moment, Joan excuses herself to the bathroom. While there, she is looking at herself in the mirror seemingly about to be sick when suddenly a quick burst of laughter escapes her mouth, just for a second, before she clamps it with both hands. Roberts holds this pose for a moment while she composes herself, clearly smiling behind her hands the whole time.
The most disturbing elements of The Blackcoat’s Daughter aren’t in the killing or the possession aspects of the film, they are in the enjoyment and summoning of evil. Kat is saddened to see the evil force leave her, she felt complete and purposeful when it was a part of her. Joan is left wandering and lost after her past, continuously seeking a way to bring the evil force back into her life. And after she beheads the couple who gave her a ride, the couple whose daughter suffered the same fate by the same hands, Joan just may have completed her life’s purpose of reinstating the evil that once possessed her. This seeking of evil and feeling complete by way of possession is what makes Kat/Joan the ultimate killer woman.
DAY 7: STOKER (2013)
Recommended by The Angry Princess
Stoker is a film that resided on my “to be watched” list for far too long — a film that had intrigued me for years based on the strength of the actors involved (especially the always brilliant Nicole Kidman and the extremely talented Mia Wasikowska) and the significant buzz surrounding the film. For some reason, I never got around to watching it, until recently. And if you happen to be like me, someone who has always said, “maybe I should watch that one day,” I implore you to make that day today.
Stoker is a stylish, gothic horror film from Korean director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy), his first English-language film. Mia Wasikowska (Crimson Peak, Piercing) plays India Stoker, a withdrawn and sullen teenage girl who has recently lost her beloved father in a tragic car accident. She suffers in silence, isolated from her emotionally distant and impossibly perfect mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Their riff widens when India’s handsome and charming Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) shows up unexpectedly for his brother’s funeral — an uncle India never knew existed.
The mysterious stranger quickly ingratiates himself to the two women, effortlessly seducing both mother and daughter. As India’s relationship with her uncle blossoms, she has both a sexual awakening as well as an awakening of the darkness within her — and the two become intrinsically linked, as demonstrated in one deeply disturbing shower scene. As long buried family secrets are unearthed, India must confront the truth about her family and her own nature.
The chilling, Hitchcockian thriller delivers relentless tension and striking visual style — a shocking and racy exploration of the devastating power of secrets and the search for identity. It asks whether monsters are born or created, or some horrible hybrid fueled by psychosis and emotional trauma. Chan-wook once again wows with trademark blend of visual artistry, dark drama, and intense violence.
It’s Wasikowska, however, who truly carries the film as a young woman on the verge of becoming who she was destined to be — in all its brutal and horrific glory. She’s an actress capable of conveying so much emotion and meaning without uttering a single word. As India, she exudes a rare combination of fragile innocence and savage fury. She’s both an emotionally damaged victim and a terrifying force of destruction.
BONUS: IMPRINT (2007)
Recommended by Danni Darko
Takashi Miike really loves to have some horrible women in his films, but I must say, the Madam of the House in Imprint has definitely left an impact on me. Included in the impressive selection of films for the Masters Of Horror Volume I (but being skipped on the Showtime run of the series for what I’m sure was way too much for them visually), Imprint was a unique and almost surreal addition to the collection. Bringing up the violence several notches was the extremely sadistic headmistress of a far off brothel in 1800s Japan.
Shoved into the sex trade and into this brothel was Komomo (Michie), a young woman that is not so naively awaiting her American lover, Christopher (Billy Drago) to return and rescue her. But sadly, her lover is too late, and as we see in horrendous flashbacks and confessions to Christopher, we learn his beloved has succumbed to some seriously rowdy torture at the behest of the Madam and her disciple. Most will cringe as they witness young Komomo being mercilessly tortured; gouged with needles in unspeakable places and strung up so meticulously, she pisses herself. Oh, and baby fetuses being tossed in a river.
This is Miike at some of his most shocking and best in my opinion, and unholy shit is Imprint and some of the women within it so completely vicious.