6 of the best women-centred horror movies to watch this halloween
Hell hath no fury, after all.
Halloween is, naturally, the time of year when we want to settle down and watch scary movies. While some of us are rightfully horrified at the idea of being frightened, others are comforted by it; by the idea that while the world is horrible, it could be a lot worse. But what isn’t comforting (especially right now) is that a lot of spooky films (especially older ones) are littered with the mutilated or dead bodies of young women. And when we’re subjected to these images and stories daily in our own lives, it’s not really a pleasant escape.
So what’s a girl to do when she wants to get a little spooked this Halloween but not be reminded of how hellish the world is? While very few horror films actually manage to avoid having women slain on-screen, some of them at the very least prioritise women’s stories; with women as their heroines and narratives that subvert dangerous tropes. Some only show violence against women as the catalyst for revenge tales that teach us about women’s strength (after all, hell hath no fury).
Here are six films to watch this Halloween that, while it seems reductive to describe them as feminist, at least prioritise women’s narratives and women heroes (and antiheroes). Some are properly scary while others are campy-spooky, if jump scares aren’t your thing -- but they all centre women.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
A lot of women-oriented horror revolves around stories of revenge. While Jennifer’s Body, with its late-00s aesthetic and Diablo Cody script, is more schlocky than scary, it’s still well worth a Halloween revisit. When Jennifer (Megan Fox) is murdered by an Adam Brody-fronted indie band in a sacrifice that requires a virgin, after lying that she is one, she becomes possessed by a demon and comes back as a vengeful boy-eating succubus. Jennifer murders a slew of boys, including best friend Needy’s boyfriend, but in true high school movie style the girls are the ones going head to head. Eventually, Needy murders Jennifer and takes on some of her powers; despite all that, though, it sure is fun watching a woman draw her strength from killing men and hiss “no, I’m killing boys”, when she’s told off for murdering people.
On first release in 2007, Teeth was something of a joke; still, it was well-received, with critics praising its “feminist” spin on the genre. Now a cult favourite, Teeth’s timeless tale of a woman who discovers she has “vagina dentata” (teeth in her vagina) after an attempted rape. Not entirely trigger-free on account of the attempted assault that opens the film, Teeth is still a campy, enjoyable film that follows Dawn (Jess Weixler) as she accidentally bites the finger off an abusive doctor, the penis off a man mid-way through a sexual encounter after he brags and makes her angry, her stepbrother and an old man. Dawn’s vagina dentata only kicks in when she’s having a non-consensual or traumatic sexual experience, so it’s a cathartic watch (even, or especially, as she’s totally unrepentant).
Released in 2016, Raw very quickly caused a stir for allegedly making people ill in the cinema. The other reason for hype around the film was, rightfully, its perceived “feminism”. Raw, starring Garance Marillier and directed by a woman (Julia Ducournau), follows its heroine as she eats meat for the first time and discovers she has a taste for human flesh. While it is at times difficult to watch, Raw is a smart coming-of-age story of a teenage girl’s awakening desire and sexuality. Ducournau said that in making the film she was “rebelling against a certain image portrayed in the media of the women's bodies, and the younger [women], especially the sexuality,” which she says is, “always shown as something very hesitant and ashamed and fearful, and I really wanted to stop with this victim status that we had now”. Shunning coy or victim narratives around women’s sexuality, Raw shows it for what it is: primal, and hungry.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Released in 1991, at a time when horror had lost most of its respectability after a slew of slasher films, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs turned the genre on its head with a slow-burning drama/thriller free of jump scares or bloody mutilations of women. Its hero, Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling, is hunting down a killer (Buffalo Bill) with the help of serial killer Hannibal Lecter, before he kills his next victim, a young woman who he’s keeping down a well. Despite the story being centred around the deaths of women, The Silence of the Lambs prioritises Clarice’s story, as she becomes a hero and saves the girl (and a dog!). All of that, and so many opportunities to see both Clarice and the girl suffer, but Demme instills fear in the viewer and builds tension through mise-en-scene, dialogue, and music, rather than gendered violence.
Wes Craven’s Scream was the first slasher film to turn around and say, “OK, maybe slasher films have a problem”. Pinpointing the issues with the genre, namely its predictability, Scream is a send-up of the tropes that tended to make the genre uncomfortable viewing. Of course, the film basically opens with a terrified Drew Barrymore being pursued and her corpse being hung from a tree, but from there the murders are pretty evenly-split in terms of gender (and not too sexualised). The film follows heroine Sidney (Neve Campbell) as she discovers who the murderers are, avoids being killed, and even takes down one of the killers herself. Scream asks us to root for Sidney and even Courtney Cox’s reporter Gale, centring the action on the women rather than on the masked attackers in a smart takedown of problematic slasher tropes.
The Craft (1996)
While The Craft isn’t necessarily a feminist film due to, well, all its hate against and between women, that aspect does mean that it pretty accurately captures the brutality of teenage girls. The Craft entirely centres female perspectives with not one but four female main characters, dealing with bullying, racism, sexual assault, and other themes that many teenage girls deal with. An attempted rapist is murdered; a racist bully has a spell cast against her that makes her lose her hair; and ultimately, when Fairuza Balk’s Nancy gets pretty mean following a power spell, the other girls have to learn to unite and take down their clique leader -- all pretty normal and familiar themes in the teen experience.