7 of the most fashionable cult horror films
Whether you're looking for costume inspiration or just some scarily good movies to binge, here are some under-the-radar choices.
For all the practical outfit needs for surviving a horror movie (like, I don’t know, comfortable shoes), the genre has long gone hand-in-hand with high fashion. It makes sense: black is perennially trendy and horror allows for dramatic sartorial choices like capes and moody leather coats. They looks can also lean ironically into the feminine, like the baby doll dresses of haunted figurines or the virginal frilliness of final girls. It can work especially well for those who love to dress up for Halloween, but don't want to sweat through an ugly mask: the fashion-forward sensibilities of scary movies make for great costumes, and below are some under-the-radar choices to pick from (sure-to-be stand-outs among this year’s legion of Jokers).
The Hunger (1983)
Has there been a sexier movie than Tony Scott’s The Hunger? Firstly, that steamy shower scene between Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie. And then all that sapphic bloodlust between Deneuve and her potential vampiric protegée Susan Sarandon? Whew. Everyone in this movie is unfairly hot, but it’s Deneuve who steals the show, in large part thanks to her wardrobe, provided by Yves Saint Laurent. Deneuve was YSL’s muse for many years (on-screen, he most famously dressed her in Belle de Jour) and here he lends a big-shouldered, glam-goth touch that transforms Deneuve’s Miriam into an underground seductress. Most unforgettable is the opening, which takes place at a Bauhaus show, while Deneuve looks like a murderous stewardess.
Lady Vengeance (2005)
A confession: This was my Halloween costume one year, and upon telling director Park Chan-wook, he asked me to email him a photo. It’s been three years, and he still hasn’t responded, and I’m clearly still not over it. Such hang-ups aside, the signature look of the titular vengeful heroine rests on her lids: her red eyeshadow. You see, she’s got her sights set on blood, after being released from prison for a murder she did not commit and being separated from her daughter for 13 years. Geum-ja (a.k.a. Lady Vengeance) dons cool leather trenches and floral dresses but the eye makeup sells the entire ensemble as capital-F Fashion. John Wick could never.
Ms. 45 (1981)
At the 2018 Met Gala, everyone wore their couture Sunday best for the theme of Catholicism (“Heavenly Bodies”). Had I had the golden ticket to attend, my reference would’ve surely been Abel Ferrara’s habit-donning protagonist in his seedy NYC thriller, played by It Girl Zoë Tamerlis. After two horrendous assaults in one day, the mute garment district worker transforms herself with daredevil red lipstick and a .45 caliber pistol (hence the title) to hunt down the male sex. Her timid outfits give way to sexy, grown-ass-woman pieces like high-collared blazers and hooded capes. But the nun outfit she wears to a Halloween party in the film’s final act remains most iconic. (Plus, going as Ms. 45 nun is way cooler than just your typical “sexy nun.”)
Daughters of Darkness (1971)
Delphine Seyrig may rival The Hunger’s Catherine Deneuve as a seductive, French lesbian vampire. Seyrig plays Countess of Bathory in this cult film, and during a stay at a seaside Belgian hotel, sets off a game of cat-and-mouse with a newlywed couple she becomes obsessed with. The French title of the film translates to “Red Lips,” and Seyrig does indeed wear the shade to bloody perfection (in one scene, she stuns in a matching red dress and scarf and nails). The Countess is never not serving a look—even when simply lounging around in a robe (a feathery one, of course)—but when she turns up, she dials it to 11 (see above sequined dress).
Ganja & Hess (1973)
It’s probably no surprise that the vampiric genre dominates this list—they are, historically, the sexiest monsters. Plus, it’s only helped that the sizzling duo of Marlene Clark and Duane Jones ( Night of the Living Dead) play the immortal lovers. Bill Gunn’s vampire story is non-traditional; unlike the fellow 70s Blaxploitation flick Blacula, Gunn’s vision is an experimental study of black lives and addiction. It is certainly not without its erotic moments: this is, after all, a beautiful picture with beautiful people. And a fashionable one, too, even though there are many scenes in which clothes don’t come into play at all. Especially charming is Marlene Clark’s wardobe as Ganja, dressed like she’s going to a country club—though this is far from that kind of vibe.
Of Dario Argento’s movies, Suspiria is the one that gets talked about the most. It’s so stylishly shot that it’s become canon even in fashion, while its recent remake became the inspiration for Undercover’s fall/winter 2019 line. Dare I say, the superior Argento fashion film is not Suspiria, but Phenomena, about a young girl at a boarding school (played by Jennifer Connelly) who uses her psychic powers to stop a serial killer? And that’s because the costumes here are deceptively effortless. Young Connelly wears crisp white button downs and sweater vests—looking enviably chic in school-girl uniforms—while her oversized coat leans trendy even though it was probably bought big so she could grow into it.
The Love Witch (2016)
And of course, we shan’t forget Anna Biller’s meticulously designed and directed The Love Witch, the go-to for modern example of fashion in horror. Her feminist black comedy is not a scary movie, per se, but it is an ideal mood board for occult fashion. Think: Lana Del Rey’s autumnal transformation. With her teal eyeshadow and spidery lashes, Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is a beauty to behold, and every single outfit is to die for. It’s hard not to root for a chic misandrist icon, turns out. From her coveted witchy wardrobe, her tearoom outfit is probably most recognizable: a peachy, lacy dream that’s too sweet to be true.