Some of the fondest memories of my misspent youth were the hours I wasted watching bad '80s horror with my girlfriends. Sure, as we aged they became drinking games, but I digress. In spite of growing up as a proud little feminist (think Lisa Simpson with a lower grade point average), I learned to accept the sad truth that a girl's role in horror is usually as cannon fodder -- unless you look very closely. Listed below are some horror flicks that not only give us gals something to do other than scream and occasionally take a shower, but have given me that much-needed boost of 'bad-ass' that all girls could use from time to time.
1) High Tension / Haute Tension
Alexandre Aja's High Tension usually goes to the top of the list for a feminist horror critique. Some critics have been insulted by the film's seeming judgements on sexuality and gender, while others have praised it for attempting to breathe new life into the 'Chainsaw Massacre' formula. It all starts with college friends Marie (Cécile de France) and Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco) heading out for a weekend in the country. But, when a serial killer comes knocking it becomes a fight to the death for Marie to not only keep herself alive, but save her friend. Regardless of what you might think of Tension's twist ending (and I won't spoil it here), you can't deny that this flick has a lot to say about love, sex, and violence. But even if gender wars aren't your thing, there is still plenty to recommend in this story of two women being stalked by a vicious killer -- there is just something about a gal wielding a concrete saw, isn't there?
On paper, The Descent might look like your average 'hot chicks in peril' film, but there is a lot more to this British horror than tips on looking 'do-able' while spelunking. As any good horror fan can tell you, there's always more going on in any well made film than what is right in front of you, and critics were quick to notice The Descent's underlying story of female bonding. What set The Descent apart from so many other films wasn't just Neil Marshall's use of an all female cast. What sticks with audiences is the story of six women who go on a extreme vacation and the combination of genuine scares with some pretty interesting commentary about what 'sisterhood' and loyalty really mean.
3) Scream 1 or 2
In the opening moments of Wes Craven's Scream we all say a fond farewell to the 80's staple of horror in the guise of Drew Barrymore -- "the big-breasted girl who can't act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door". Say what you will about the Scream franchise, I have to give Wes Craven credit for letting our heroines really give it their all to stay alive. Every time Neve Campbell's Sydney went up against good old Ghost Face, she was smart, resourceful ... and I did mention smart? Something that's a real luxury in the world of horror. Sure, when horror experienced its first taste of irony, long time genre fans might have been incensed. But I for one was thrilled to see a woman that wasn't a main character last longer than five seconds when faced with imminent death -- and if you don't believe me take another look at Sarah Michelle Gellar's final moments in Scream 2.
4) Resident Evil Franchise
I have a few people in my life who for various reasons just love the bones off of Milla Jovovich, so this one is for them. Ever since Lara Croft first put on her signature tank top, leading ladies in the video game universe are nothing new. But, when it comes to the big screen, the list of movie heroines becomes a heck of a lot shorter, and usually a lot less interesting. In the film versions of Capcom's best-selling series, Milla Jovovich's Alice rides in to save humanity from the evil Umbrella corporation and cannibal zombies with all the bravado of a samurai gunslinger -- no silly emotional trauma, no long-lost loves or a family waiting back at home, just good old fashioned swagger.
5) Ginger Snaps
This 2000 werewolf flick links Lycanthropy with puberty which is nothing new -- anyone see I Was a Teenage Werewolf? But, at least this time John Fawcett gives us the girl's side of the story. Werewolf films might still be firmly rooted in boy territory, with the exception of a few misguided outings (An American Werewolf in Paris). So even though most horror films keep women in the background. Mary Sues are still the order of the day and we are usually there either to be saved or looked at -- but not this time. The story of the Fitzgerald sisters torn apart by changes both menstrual and supernatural changes all that, and even thought the flick might not have been a smash hit in theaters, the film has found a deserved cult following who like a little girl power with their evisceration.
6) Buffy the Vampire Slayer
So before you laugh at me for including the great Buffy Summers on a list of pro-girl horror, hear me out. Isn't one of the great tenants of feminism the issue of choice? I choose to stay at home and raise rug-rats or, I choose to slave away in a cubicle eight hours a day? Well who said you couldn't be a fearless vampire killer and a mall rat? When a cheerleader learns she is part of ancient line of vampire slayers, a young girl has to reconcile who she really is with what is expected of her. Nothing new right? But what makes Buffy stand out is that it is never one or the other, that is the genius of Joss Whedon's creation. There is no trade-off for Buffy; her kick-ass martial arts skills are just as important to her as her 'keen fashion sense' -- Amen to that sister. So even though the movie might not be scary, it certainly is funny. Plus, how could you resist one of the best death scenes every put to film?
7) Hard Candy
Maybe David Slade's Hard Candy isn't your usual horror flick, but that certainly doesn't make it any less disturbing. There are no creepy monsters, chainsaw wielding psychos, or any of the usual tropes of a good horror, but, damn if you aren't on the edge of your seat. Candy stars Ellen Page as a young girl who spends an 'eventful' day with a charming if not slightly lecherous photographer (played by Patrick Wilson) in his stylish bachelor pad. What made Candy so memorable is that the film manages to constantly surprise you (which isn't always easy for this jaded moviegoer). The film has plenty to say about sexual predators and their victims, but what stays with you is that you are never quite sure which one of the characters is the real predator. Not to mention that after watching this film, you will never look at Juno the same way again.
So as I have come to discover, it's not all gloom and doom for us girls in the world of horror. Thankfully, there are still a few people working out there who realize that women have so much more to offer in the way of thrills and chills than just a warm body.
Sound off below on some of your favorite 'female friendly' horror...