(Un)Feminist Guilty Pleasures: Horror Movies

One of my favorite things to do on Halloween is to just chill out with my peoples/honey and watch horror movies. I’m a big fan of scary flicks, yet I always run into the obvious – that so many of them are pretty damn sexist.
So yes, I’ll admit I’ve watched some horror films that are a feminist’s nightmare – basically those cheesy, old school sexist flicks that are so silly and ridiculous, it’s laughable. But I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to turn off a movie five minutes in because the glorification of violence against women is so blatant.
Yet every once in a while, I come across a scary movie that actually manages to be sexist-free. I would say one example is The Descent, a scary-ass film with an all-female cast of really strong characters.
So tonight, Jessica and I are getting a bunch of scary movies to watch. Do any buffs have suggestions of some feminist-friendly horror we could get?

Join the Conversation

  • RiotGrrl

    Damn it. I think my comment got deleted. Ok, some of these have already been said but that should just tell you how good they are:
    The Orphanage
    Ginger Snaps
    The Mist
    Death Proof/Planet Terror
    Sleepaway Camp
    Masters of Horror: The Screwfly Solution
    MOH: Pro Life
    MOH: Sick Girl
    28 Days Later
    I don’t recommend Audition. I was greatly let down and found it creepy, but also very boring. I would recommend A Tale of Two Sisters over this.

  • Emily

    Oh, actually I think I saw the other ending but they still shouldn’t make a sequel even if the first movie rocked. well, it’s good to know that cool people like both endings so I guess you can’t go wrong with this one ;)

  • RiotGrrl

    To me that’s more fantasy though. I wouldn’t call it horror, but it is a very good film

  • Emily

    I completely agree about Romaro. Although the films aren’t feminist, they are definitely not sexist or offensive and often have a progressive bent. Love them (except his last one Diary of the Dead which I thought was a big fuck you to his fans :( seriously, he knew better but made it suck after his masterwork Land of the Dead (it had some great commentary about classicism and how America treats veterans) was largely under-appreciated).

  • Clare

    Oh wow. I’ve never heard of that movie before, but it sounds really good. I’ll have to look for it!

  • RiotGrrl

    I just watched Diary of the Dead last week and it was lame. I was kinda annoyed that he put it out. The social commentary was very good and the characters annoyed me.
    I also watched The Strangers that night and that was ok. Definately creepy. They’re making a sequel, comes out 2010.

  • RiotGrrl

    I meant to say the social commentary was NOT very good. Gah.

  • RiotGrrl

    I’m with you. I was “Baby” for Halloween a couple years ago. I loves me some 1000 corpses.

  • firefey

    OMG yes tale of two sisters. CREEPY! also with subtitles, but wow. for those who have been recomending the orphanage, go check out other del toro movies. this man rocks my socks in terms of cinematic storytelling and out right creep factor. and his films are always so beautiful and rich.
    the mist was… heartbreaking, and scary. i loved that the protagonist was a father, and how his relationship with his son was played out.
    28 days and 28 months are some of my favorite plague zombie films.
    haunted with aiden quinn was good and suspensful…and i have to admit i partly enjoy it for kate bekinsale’s handful of nude scenes and her wild roaring 20s character.
    and i’ll admit to being a fan of the devil’s rejects. even if it does make me a bad person, sherri moon zombie is HOT!!!

  • kawada15

    One REALLY SCARY movie is “Inside” which is a 2007 french film (original title : À l’intérieur ). It’s about a pregnant woman who was in an car accident and killed her husband and a few months later on Christmas Eve she stays home alone to grieve and a woman is outside her house stalking her. Really graphic scenes make this a perfect scary movie.
    If you want a WTF movie then rent Cannibal Holocaust. I watched it once and was both confused and severely bothered.

  • lenady_s

    I love the others personally. I can’t stomache most horror movies, but that one was kind of tame. I’m not certain how people see it as a rip-off of the sixth sense though. Is it because of the twist ending? Cause I thought that was playing off of the ambiguousness of Turn of the Screw (which it’s very loosely based off of).

  • sharlit159

    Longtime lurker and a definite lover of feminist horror. I second the suggestions above. Thanks for a great thread!
    My two cents: The Descent is fantastic and scared the crap out of me, a veteran horror buff. Though it’s more fantasy (a spiritual predecessor to Pan’s Labyrinth), I also recommend The Devil’s Backbone. Guillermo del Toro can break your heart with his tales of souls lost and adrift amid/after war.
    And if you can find it, [Rec], the Spanish film (with subtitles) that was remade as Quarantine. I saw it in the theatre, so I’m not sure if it’s on DVD yet. I found the female protagonist fairly engaging, and the film treated the characters as normal people rather than two-dimensional potential victims (though there were a couples “why did he/she do that?” and “Don’t go in there!” moments).
    Also in theatres in a lot of major cities is Let the Right One In, which is a gorgeous meditation on childhood and loneliness (with vampires!) from Sweden. Again, subtitle warning. Check out Rotten Tomatoes to see how it’s impressed mainstream critics as well as genre buffs. I made a special trip to Toronto to see it and I plan on doing so again!
    Happy Hallowe’en – thanks for lots of great reading!

  • LalaReina

    I liked Ginger Snaps a lot. Now the Ring really got me. I saw it on dvd on a late stormy night all by myself, when ole girl came out that tv!!! I slept with the light on for days.

  • JKayOh

    The scariest book/movie I ever read/saw was “Communion” by Whitley Streiber. Although not typical horror fare, it’s supposed to be based on actual events of alien abduction that took place in upstate New York. The film stars Christopher Walken, so you know it’s fabulous for that reason alone.
    After I read the book, I swear I didn’t sleep normally for about three months.
    This would be doubly creepy for the Feministers, as I seem to recall a posting saying that you sometimes conduct your retreats Upstate. : )
    And of course, this film is non-sexist—aliens do not discriminate as they need both males and females to implement their master paln. (Evil laugh.) : )

  • JKayOh

    “Master plan”—spelling is hard.

  • BornSlippy

    Audition is one of the scariest movies I have ever seen. Excellent story, acting, and filming, (plus it has some really twisted humor and borders on a romantic comedy in places, which just makes the horror parts of the film all the more disturbing, a fave horror tacict of mine), but I have to warn anyone looking into the film that it turns very graphically violent towards the end. In the class I took on horror films, Audition was the only film we were not required to see, as our professor recognized that its climactic scenes would be too much for many people.
    If ever there was a film for which the D: icon was appropriate, Audition is it.
    The Happiness of the Katakuris is by the same director is more light-hearted (it’s a musical, for one!) but just as good.

  • sophie b.

    Overall I’d agree that The Descent was a proper guilty pleasure–
    but I was kind of pissed off at the end that the two best fighters decided to fight to the death over a guy.
    I thought they were going to overcome the jealous-rage thing and combine forces and both get out alive.
    But at least that happened way at the end so I got to enjoy most of the film. :)

  • ikkin

    The movie is not without flaw, for sure. I didn’t like how it championed faith above all things, but I think it did leave the audience with a choice.

  • mugsandpugs

    the orphanage is pretty freaky. i just watched it and im pretty sure i’m going to have trouble sleeping.

  • Cori

    High Tension. One of my favorite horror movies, and there’s a lesbian subtext that’s not so much sub.

  • Kensuke Nakamura

    If you see the making of Alien, it’s interesting because the choice of casting Sigourney Weaver wasn’t deliberately progressive, but more passive gender neutrality. The screenplay was written without any reference to gender and all the characters were referred to by their last name and they just cast some as women and some men. Ridley Scott just decided to cast a woman as the lead role.

  • Halo

    Silent Hill was rad (especially on that emphasizing female characters thing). I’m an Asian horror flick fan- A Tale Of Two Sisters was a trip… you have to get the original Korean version though. Same thing with Shutter (the Thai version)- not feminist, but creepy.
    Also a trip: Deep in the Woods (french), and Frailty (just plain weird). High Tension wasn’t too bad, and 30 days of night explores some interesting xenophobic themes.

  • 12sided

    oh As far as The Ring goes (or any asian based horror movie goes for that matter) I’d recommend the original asian movie with subtitles.
    I saw the American re make of The Ring first before watching the three Japanese movies and I definitely found the whole thing made a lot more sense and had a lot less cheap scares and was just ramped up with atmospheric dread. I was terrified of televisions for ages afterward!
    hmm other good ones were The Eye and a Tale of Two Sisters. And while we’re on the horror genre if anyone is into horror video games I’d recommend the Fatal Frame/Project Zero series. The first game featured Miku going into a house she knew was haunted to try and rescue her big brother not even knowing if he was alive or not, complaints can be made about the violent, ancient, ceremonies that usually happen in flashback in the game that happen to the chosen priestesses/women (although the second game the sacrifice can be made by male or female twins) and the third game put in shower scenes that weren’t too bad but I’d still recommend them despite that

  • Lilly

    Okay, I know I’m late on this one, but if you’re planning on doing some post-halloween movie watching, watch the Orphanage. It is the scariest movie I have ever seen in my life and it will make you ball your eyes out in the end (in a good way).

  • Lilly

    I know this might not qualify as a horror movie but it has some strong female leads in it: the panic room.

  • aideenjohnston

    Hell yes to Alien, but only the first one…the rest sucked, particularly no. 3 :P

  • aideenjohnston

    I love that film, and Cillian Murphy is hot as!

  • Rebekah

    What do people think of Rosemary’s Baby?
    I watched it randomly the other day and was totally struck by the women’s rights issues that were present in such an old-school movie.
    I don’t know if I would call it feminist, but throughout the movie, Rosemary definitely struggles with trying to make her own decisions. Everyone around her is trying to control what she eats and drinks, what she reads (her doctor forbids her from reading anything about pregnancy, and her husband throws away her book!)…and basically tell her that they know what’s best for her and that she should just settle down and be a good girl.
    And as she figures out the truth about what’s happening to her, she is classically dismissed as “crazy” and having hormonal imbalances.
    The ending is completely puzzling…left me wondering if it was a pro-feminist piece disguised as a horror movie about Satanist or…?

  • laurel gardner

    “Silence of the Lambs does have characters who are sexist towards Clarice, but its an absolute favorite of mine…”
    You say that as if the portrayal of the sexism against Clarice is a point against the movie. I consider the representation of the obvious sexism against her to be one of the major factors that makes it a feminist movie. She also has that excellent exchange criticiing her superior after he makes some comment to other cops about not talking about certain case-related matters “in the presence of ladies.”
    The sequel and prequel are both also great feminist stories – every woman in them is a complex, well-flushed out character. They’re all strong fighters and completely astereotypical. And though this was changed for one of the movies, all three of the major “bad guys” end up being killed by women.
    And, oh yes – Hannibal eats everyone who acts like a total sexist asshole to Clarice. :-)

  • cheezwizard

    What about Ms. 45? It has a pretty feminist lead character who’s out to get revenge on the men who wronged her (and, of course, anyone else she can find). Also, the awesome final scene takes place on Halloween.
    FWIW, I’d also like to second Candyman. It kinda falls apart at the end, but the first half is a very creepy and believable urban fairytale.

  • M0xieHart

    Omg, The Eye, A Tale Of Two Sisters, & Ringu were soooooo good. There was this Korean movie I saw recently, unfortunately I can’t remember the title. It’s about a mutated monster created by US scientists dumping formaldehyde down the drain. Suicide Club was amazing.

  • M0xieHart

    *Silence of the Lambs: One of my favorite movies. Clarice is my hero. But I like the books of SotL & Hannibal better than the movies.
    *Suicide Club: Disturbing as hell but visually stunning.
    *The Night of the Living Dead series, especially Land of the Dead.
    *Candyman still terrifies me.

  • ripley

    even better – for the first third to a half, the movie has no main character at all – the lead is not someone you can guess at based on their gender or rank. It’s not the captain, or the scientist, or the the pure/virginal/innocent, or anyone whose external traits would signal “leader.” Instead, it’s the only person who keeps their head together, who has their priorities straight, who really thinks. and she becomes the lead because of who she is and what she is like as a person.
    god I love Alien.

  • Chelsea Morning

    The 1963 Robert Wise film, “The Haunting”. It’s based on the novel by Shirley Jackson. Strong female characters. One of the main characters is a lesbian (Claire Bloom) with E.S.P. Still the scariest film I’ve ever seen.
    Also “The Innocents” starring Deborah Kerr (1961). Based on a novella by Henry James. Totally creepy. Kerr plays a governess who experiences a haunting…or does she?

  • http://trishwilson.typepad.com/blog The Countess

    I also wrote an article about “torture porn” versus good horror films. I don’t like torture porn because I think it’s boring. Here’s a link to the article”
    Horror Movies And “Torture Porn”

  • The Countess

    I’m a huge horror movie buff. Some of my favorite horror movies:
    “The Haunting” (original)
    “Dead Birds”
    “Dead End” (this one makes for a good Christmas horror movie)
    “The Changeling”
    “The Devil’s Backbone”
    Quatermass And The Pit”
    “Dark Water” (Japanese)
    “Uzumaki” (Japanese)

  • The Countess

    By the way, there are several versions of “The Turn Of The Screw” by Henry James available out there. One is “The Innocents”, starring Deborah Kerr, as mentioned by Chelsea Morning. All of the versions of “The Turn Of The Screw” are very good. There is even one starring Lynn Redgrave as the governess.

  • GeorgeS

    That Korean monsterflick; it’s titled ‘The Host’. It’s pretty funny.

  • GeorgeS

    That Corean movie; Are you thinking about “The Host” ? Think that’s its name.

  • GeorgeS

    Whups. Had some problems with my browser. Sorry about that.

  • SereniT03

    I know its a little late now… but oh well.
    So yeah, Descent was great, and I also appreciate the thoughtful criticisms that a few folks brought up about it.
    One more that I’d like to suggest is a french B-movie. “Bloody Mallorie”.
    Way fantastic!!!!!

  • captain_shev

    I am so happy that this topic has come up!! I adore horror movies, and am always happy when I find something that is feminist, or at least not anti-feminist.
    So – I recommend Chopper Chicks in Zombie town – it’s about a female biker gang, who end up in a town of zombies. Hilarious, and chock full of hot women in leather kicking ass.
    Ginger Snaps (1 and 2), Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Jacques Tourneau movies (particularly I Walked with a Zombie – creepy black and white Jane Eyre themed zombie movie – completely amazing) – these are all great. Obviously The Descent and Alien are amazing, but you’ve probably already got the message! I’d love any more recommendations – always on the lookout for good horror flicks.
    I also recommend Judith (Jack) Halberstam’s book Skin Shows – a queer reading of some horror movies and books. Excellent book, and impeccable politics behind it ;0)

  • RiotGrrl

    I forgot about Frailty. I really liked it when it came out. And I also really like High Tension. My pain complaint is that it switches between subtitles and dubbing. I don’t know why it does that…

  • RiotGrrl

    that should read main not pain…

  • M0xieHart

    Yes! I loved that movie.

  • M0xieHart

    A Jane Eyre themed zombie movie? That sounds awesome, I love Jane Eyre.

  • ShifterCat

    May I recommend the And You Call Yourself a Scientist site? I enjoy reading most of the B-Masters sites, but Lyz Kingsley has my vote for the best of the lot. She has some wonderfully witty and insightful things to say about gender and science in speculative fiction films.

  • helen

    “Creep”! It’s a British film with a female protagonist who is trapped at night in a London subway with a monster. Is V. gory and definitely watchable as a feminist!

  • voluptuouspanic

    Neil Marshall is absolutely one of my favorite directors. Dog Soldiers was really really good, The Descent was amazing, and though it’s not a pure horror movie, Doomsday was incredible. The main character isn’t treated any differently because she’s a woman, and that’s what I like about Marshall’s work.