The role of women in horror films has always been a hot topic for debate. Some argue that horror films marginalize women and paint them as hypersexual beings with no depth. The opposing argument asserts that the existence of a "Final Girl" in most horror films is a testament to female empowerment, and that horror films celebrate women and their role in the cinematic universe. There is merit to both sides of the argument, but we're more interested in spotlighting some standout female characters in genre film who have positively portrayed women, showcased them as being just as tough (or more so) than their male counterparts, and challenged some of the stereotypes attached to women in film. Here are ten of our favorites:
Alice in Resident Evil
Alice is a pioneer for ass-kicking ladies. She's one of a select few female heroines in an action franchise – albeit an action, horror, and sci-fi mash-up. Milla Jovovich is relentless in the role; she hits the ground running in the first entry in the RE film franchise and has been fighting for survival in a zombie-infested reality ever since. Alice can take on the Umbrella Corporation and save Raccoon City from total destruction without even breaking a sweat.
Erin in You're Next
Once Erin picks up an axe and starts dealing justice, all bets are off. It’s a shame that the female empowerment angle of You’re Next wasn’t part of the pricey advertising campaign that Lionsgate rolled out for the film weeks before its release. Ryan Turek of Shock Till You Drop recently pointed out in an insightful editorial that the film might have fared better than its disappointing $7 million opening weekend take, had it set itself apart from countless other home-invasion thrillers by marketing the female lead as a powerhouse and force to be reckoned with.
Mary in American Mary
Mary Mason is a great testament to Katharine Isabelle’s ability to win over an audience: she has taken a character with no apparent redeeming traits and endeared audiences to her nonetheless. American Mary is a cinematic triumph, and makes a strong feminist statement without getting bogged down or causing the viewer to drift. The character has quickly become something of a cult icon, garnering praise for the film's portrayal of Mary as a strong, capable, resourceful, and intelligent woman.
Ripley in the Alien Series
Ripley is a very early example of a female character who is just as capable, even more in fact, than her male counterparts. Sigourney Weaver became a screen icon as a result of her standout performance in the Alien franchise: she's cool under pressure, tough as nails, and refuses to back down to anyone or anything that stands in her way. Ripley subsequently inspired countless characters in horror and sci-fi films following the 1979 release of Alien.
Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street
Wes Craven’s daughter was reportedly the one who coaxed him to cast Heather Langenkamp in the role of Nancy Thompson, and we're certainly glad that he listened. Langenkamp plays Nancy as a survivor, and brought a bit of herself to the role; she brought even more when she played a semi-fictionalized version of herself in Craven's 1994 meta-sequel New Nightmare.
Selene in Underworld
Though I am not personally a diehard fan of the Underworld franchise, I have an infinite amount of respect for the character of Selene and Kate Beckinsale’s unflinching portrayal of her. Selene does battle with the lycans and kicks an unprecedented amount of ass while doing so. She's another great example of a female character that has carried a successful film series.
Mandy in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
We knew that Mandy was a survivor, but we don’t learn just how far she can go until the the film's controversial final twist. That twist worked for us, and we thought Amber Heard was the perfect choice for the role of Mandy. Heard plays her as tough but vulnerable, and the end result plays out very well. The film waited seven years for a US release, but Mandy Lane will finally receive a limited theatrical and On Demand run beginning September 6th.
Ginger in Ginger Snaps
Ginger was a breakout role for Katharine Isabelle, and the primary reason she was tapped by the Twisted Twins to play the titular role in American Mary. Ginger is young girl coming into womanhood... and simultaneously realizing that she's a werewolf. The film uses her lycanthropic transformation as a metaphor for puberty, and does so without condescending to its audience. Isabelle does a bang-up job of bringing Ginger to life in a way that makes audiences connect with the character, and paints her as a force to be reckoned with.
Juno in The Descent
Really, all of the women from Neil Marshall’s 2005 film belong on this list; the entire cast sends a message of female empowerment, and that is to be commended. But when forced to single out one performance, the standout for us is Natalie Mendoza (Moulin Rouge) as Juno, the ringleader to a group of adventurous young women cavers. Mendoza portrays Juno with a rough exterior, but with good intentions and a lot of heart. (She also makes a surprise reappearance in the sequel.)
Carrie White is one of the most legendary names in both literature and cinema. After being pushed to the very brink of insanity, Carrie snaps back with a vengeance, unleashing all of her telekinetic rage on her high school classmates... and the results are devastating. Carrie can be seen as a cautionary tale against bullying, with Carrie is the hero... or antihero, depending upon how you look at it. The upcoming remake is said to be more faithful to Steven King's 1974 novel, and audiences can make up their own minds about this new interpretation on October 18th, when the film hits theaters.
Very Honorable Mentions go to Jennifer Hills from I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and Cherry Darling from Planet Terror.