Horror movies, slasher films, thrillers, ghosts, gore, witches, werewolves, homicidal maniacs; you name it, I love it. I love the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to horror. Growing up watching movies like The Birds and reading a plethora of Stephen King novels at probably an inappropriate age set me up for my obsession with horror movies. I love things jumping out to scare the audience, I love the gore, I love the action. I love it all and I’ve been blessed with the strength to somehow avoid nightmares after watching scary things. However, it does get tedious sometimes watching women get killed movie after movie if they embody even a smidgen of sexuality that can’t be controlled. Good thing there are quite a few movies that break that mold and they are my favourites. Warning: There will probably be gory images in this post.
13 years ago a younger version of myself walked into my local video rental store (remember those?) and picked up the Canadian classic Ginger Snaps (first in a trilogy all dealing with werewolves, masculinity and sisterhood). At 12 I was probably much too young to watch this movie (honestly how did I even walk out of the store with it) but the moment I turned it on I knew it was love at first watch. Ginger Snaps is a Canadian werewolf thriller/horror based around two sisters: Bridgette and Ginger Fitzgerald. They are death obsessed juniors in high school who live in a boring Canadian suburb. Their neighbourhood is being ravished by some wild animal killing people’s dogs. One day as Ginger and Bridgette are attempting to prank a fellow class mate Ginger gets attacked by the beast that is running wild in their neighbourhood.
That exact same day Ginger also gets her period (3 years late). She is bitten and the sisters try to blame the attack on some sort of bear because it smells the blood. Obviously it was not a bear however, and by the time the girls get home Ginger’s wounds are already healing. Over the next few weeks Ginger goes through a transformation. The sisters at first believe all of the changes she is going through are related to her menstruation but then it becomes clear to Bridgette that Ginger is slowly turning into a werewolf. She begins tracking the days leading up to the full moon and Ginger’s progress. Ginger, who was previously an outcast, becomes aware and confident in herself and her sexuality. Ginger kills numerous people as she goes through her transformation, and also infects a boy at their school by having unprotected sex with him. Bridgette tries the entire time to save her sister and they find a herb that slows the progression but by the end of the film Ginger is too far gone to be saved and Bridgette has to decide how she will handle the situation. Bridgette ends up infecting herself in order to stick with Ginger and in a final attempt to try and get Ginger back Bridgette ends up stabbing Ginger in her werewolf form.
The film turns issues of puberty and teenage girl’s problems on its head and has two women as the leads. The girls’ puberty is turned into a site of humour and horror rich with satire. Ginger and Bridgette are sisters with an unusually close bond and both of them represent many different aspects of teenage life all at once. The sister’s relationship isn’t always smooth and in Bridgette killing her sister at the end of the movie speaks to the complex way women interact with each other.
Jennifer’s Body is another example of how teenage girl’s sexuality is turned on its head. Where female sexuality is usually punished in horror films, Jennifer’s transformation into a killing machine comes from a subversion of the virgin trope. She is sacrificed by men who think she is a virgin and because she is not she turns into a monster and kills boys. Jennifer’s Body begins with the subversion of the virgin sacrifice trope and then allows the punishment to be turned around while also dealing with issues of female friendship at Needy recognizes Jennifer’s danger and has to kill her.
Crimson Peak, though based on characters slightly older, focuses on two female characters who are vastly different. One, a mild mannered writer who wants excitement, and another middle aged woman engaged in an incestuous relationship and a murder scheme. What Crimson Peak allows however, is a slick Jane Eyre-esque horror film where the “horror was for love” even in it’s twisted, misguided and incestuous way. Guillermo del Toro, to me, merges horror and romance with interesting characters and haunting scenery. Also it helps that some of the movie was filmed in my hometown so I have to love it.
These are only three of my favourite horror films but the list of wonderful female characters in horror movies is only growing as the years go on. I still have not seen The Witch or It Follows, both of which promise to add fantastic main characters to my ever growing list of horror movie ladies. From the Scream franchise, reboots of old classics like Evil Dead, to new and insane additions like Teeth or Pans Labyrinth women in horror are being allowed to embody every complex part of horror films that men are.
Does that excuse old and tired tropes from past (and present let’s be real) that have become such noticeable and common occurrences in the horror genre? No. That’s okay though. There is a vast enough well of horror films to choose from to find anything you like, and I am glad that I have found a group of recent movies to enjoy that do much of the subversion I enjoy in films. There is now a group of ladies and horror movies to add to the already long list of classic horror movies of the past. This list was just a taste of the discussions possible in regards to horror and the ways young women are portrayed in it. But I hope that this post inspires you to think about the horror movies you watch, and the reasons why women love horror. Also, how captivating and innovative stories can be told through horror when allowing both female heroines and villains to embrace sexuality and the ability to be monsters but also girls, sisters, daughters, mothers, etc.
See you in a few days for:
Wednesday: Shadowhunters 1×06-1×08. We’re going to talk about Clary’s art and how it is becoming increasingly helpful to their attempt to find Valentine. Also, we’ll be talking about the different relationships on the show and why they’re important, especially to our main ladies Clary and Izzy.
Saturday: Youtubers!! Gonna delve into this part of the internet and see what it means to young women.