This post originally appeared on the site in October 2010, but it's so good, we thought we'd revisit it. Happy Ladyween!
It is really hard to find a horror film that is unequivocally feminist. So hard, in fact, that when I went to a local video store that specializes in cult and hard-to-find films and asked the dude working there if he had any suggestions for feminist horror, he hemmed and hawed for a while, suggested some rape-and-revenge films, and then pretty much gave up. Sometimes it feels like there are so few horror films out there that can be considered feminist that we've talked them all to death (heh). Not true! After scouring the internets and various video stores, I've managed to come up with a list of horror films with solid feminist themes. Take that, you unkillable misogynist slashers!
I decided to leave some big titles off this list. So you won't see Scream, Carrie, the Halloween movies, Jennifer's Body, or Teeth. Although, if you haven't seen Teeth, let me tell you now that it is very perplexing but very worth watching, and that the eponymous teeth are not in somebody's mouth.
And now, the list!
Ginger Snaps (2000) Ginger and Brigitte are sisters who are into faking their own deaths and avoiding high school homogeneity. When Ginger gets her period for the first time, she and Brigitte are a little worried that puberty might transform them into the normy girls they love to hate (Ginger: "If I start simpering around tampon dispensers, moaning about PMS, shoot me, okay?"). Turns out Ginger has no reason to worry about becoming "average," because just as she starts bleeding for the first time, she gets chomped by a werewolf. Lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty (in this film a dreaded transformation) is what makes Ginger Snaps awesome, along with its discussion of the complexities of relationships between girls. It has a less-compelling sequel (Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed) as well as a prequel (Ginger Snaps Back). The best campy feminist horror film you can see.
May is about May, who has a lazy eye as a child and wears an eye patch. Her mother tells her that if she wants to make friends, she'd better cover the patch with her hair, but May has a hard time keeping her hair in her face and thus makes no friends. As an adult, she still has no friends, except a super creepy doll in a glass box which she can NEVER TAKE OUT, OR ELSE. May thinks that people have "beautiful parts, but no beautiful wholes," she's really good at sewing, and she thinks it's no big deal when the limbs of animals are chopped off, sooo I'll let you guess where this is going. What's feminist about this? Well, like Ginger Snaps, May is about a woman struggling to exist outside of socially acceptable boundaries, although unfortunately for May, that existence is extremely difficult and ultimately impossible. It's also interesting that May's feeling of rejection isn't gender-specific: she wants the love of both men and women. If you can't get behind those as feminist themes, perhaps you'll take your enjoyment in May as a lady character who isn't squeamish about chopping people up.
Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
If it were 1982, you were like 14 years old, and you and some buddies decided to settle down to watch Slumber Party Massacre, you might think it a pretty standard slasher film. The plot is straightforward and easy to follow and the story has absolutely no twists. What happens is this: a bunch of pretty teenage girls played by actors in their mid-twenties get together for night of giggling in their jammies, and a not very scary older guy with a power tool comes and kills them all. What makes this film interesting from a feminist perspective is its subtle critique of the slasher genre. This isn't quite parody: you have to pay attention to see the incongruities that act as clues. Director Amy Holden Jones knowingly leaves windows wide open and has her characters run into closets when they have plenty of room to run out of the house. She gives the killer absolutely no mystery: he's just some guy with a big drill, no mask or anything. The phallic nature of his weapon is consciously highlighted: one shot from behind shows the drill between his legs as he gets ready to kill a victim. But as other critics have mentioned, SPM doesn't leave its genre. For example, the boobs and butts and legs on gratuitous display are meant to please, just as they're meant to comment on their own presence. Did I mention the script for this film was written by Rita Mae Brown? Lucky for you, the Slumber Party Massacre trilogy was just rereleased on DVD.
The Company of Wolves (1984)
Based on the story by Angela Carter, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The Carter story, in turn, is based on Little Red Riding Hood, so what we've got here is a film that takes the latent sexual messages in the fairy tale, illustrates them clearly, and then subverts the shit out of them. Red Riding Hood, named Rosaleen in this film, carefully navigates the "forest" of puberty, having been warned by her grandmother to watch out for the sexy men-wolves. I watched this film with my roommates, who insisted that it's actually fantasy, not horror, I guess because it isn't scary enough. And it's true that aside from a handful of weird and bloody lycanthropic scenes, the film is more a spooky meditation on the fear of the unknown than a graphic illustration of the things we're afraid of. But what's a horror movie about anyway, if not fear of the unknown? The Company of Wolves, with its labyrinthine story-within-a-story structure, considers that unknown (darkness, the animal world, and most importantly for its teenaged protagonist, sex) without yanking it out of its hiding spot. Lots of metaphor and loaded imagery here, which sometimes verges on the obvious: in a scene straight out of Are You Afraid of the Dark, a bunch of creepy dolls crash to the floor to signify loss of innocence. I'd expect nothing less from a film that Carter was involved with. Bonus: Angela Lansbury plays the grandmother!