Halloween-Friendly Films with Spunky Female Performances

It is perhaps understandable why people often call out horror films for objectifying and degrading their female characters, a quality that derives from the world views enforced by a predominantly male movie industry. As a personal example, I've always had a problem with the imagery of Hitchock's classic thriller The Birds (1968), which seems uncomfortably eager in its portrayal of glamorized women being mauled by the fowl villains of the tale.

The (teen) slasher genre is perhaps most frequently criticized for its victimization of women, often juxtaposing some grisly fate with vindictive undertones of eroticism. It is, however, important to note that history's most important slasher film, Halloween (1978), subverted many expectations by containing relatively little gore (while still being scarier than hell) and having the audience sympathize with the women rather than the killer. As film critic Roger Ebert succinctly put it: “Halloween does not hate women.” While this may initially sound like damning a work with faint praise, it does underscore the point that horror films can disclose intelligent discussions of gender and sexuality without having to submit to blind patriarchy or misogyny.

My list below attempts to capture a broad range of films in which movie heroines tackle the various horrors of abandonment, goat demons, parenting, blood magic, and dastardly men. Opinions will probably vary whether these films have anything interesting to say about womanhood, but I believe that these entries at least attempt to imagine the female body as more than just the victim or star monstrosity (e.g. Stephen King's Carrie). With that in mind, ready the popcorn, keep a lookout for masked villains peeping through your windows, and enjoy a positively ghastly Halloween with some of these female-fueled features!

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

Fans of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy will recognize the director's trademark riffs in this updated horror comedy, including some frantic camera work, abrupt demonic possessions, and attention to charming nuances such as rotting flesh. Yet, it is Alison Lohman's role as the resourceful Christine that provides the psychological heft to this onslaught of devilish horrors. Christine's comfortable life gets derailed after she is cursed by a vengeful gypsy lady, resulting in a series of midnight hauntings and terrible moral choices between survival and the suffering of others. Lohman's performance brims with positive energy, which occasionally makes you wonder whether to shriek or laugh at her increasingly desperate plight.

Aliens (1986)

While the first Alien was responsible for re-defining the scifi horror scene in the late 1970s, it was James Cameron's adrenaline-pumped sequel that introduced a little-seen element in Hollywood blockbusters: an ass-kicking mother in a lead role. Sigourney Weaver reprises her role as the unflappable Ripley, whose priorities for survival change after she becomes the de facto foster parent to the recently orphaned Newt (Carrie Henn). The film is also revered for its memorable contribution to the monstrous roster of overbearing mothers; without giving too much away, let's just say that the label in Ripley's iconic line (“Get away from her, you bitch!”) definitely strikes home.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Due to its formal and subtle tone, it might take a while to register that Roman Polanski's first American film actually contains some of horror cinema's most arresting depictions of abuse and satanism. Mia Farrow's cool, calm, and collected performance is the core of this chilling urban tale, in which a growing sense of paranoia and dread seeps into the very tea her character is served. The tough premise of a pregnant woman's social isolation is redeemed by the film's impeccable poise of artistry and craftsmanship, making this diabolical descent a surprisingly enjoyable ride. And also, let us not forget Krzysztof Komeda's undying theme song to the film...

The Babadook (2014)

If you're interested in a more recent horror take on the complexities of parenthood, look no further than Jennifer Kent's superb debut about a single mother (Essie Davis) and her troubled son (Noah Wiseman). The narrative is woven with poignant discussions of grief, stress, and anxiety, and as the dreadful tale unfolds, so does the presence of the ominous creature known as Mister Babadook. The monster designs are ingenious throughout, but to me the biggest draw of the film is its bold exploration of one of horror's more controversial subject matters: pedophobia, or the fear of children. For a more in-depth look at The Babadook's effectiveness as a horror film, check out fellow editor Jesper Simola's analysis here.

Coraline (2009)

While not strictly speaking a horror film, this deranged stop motion adventure by Laika animation studios features plenty of Kafkaesque creepiness to leave younger viewers (and why not older ones) sleepless for a night or twelve. Based on Neil Gaiman's popular children's novella, the story follows 11-year-old Coraline Jones and her discovery of a secret world that is far more dangerous than she is first led to believe. I can't think of many things that would rank higher on the list of “Things That Will Scar Kids For Life” than having dinner with extradimensional parents who have buttons for eyes. If you enjoyed this film, be sure to check out Laika's equally tremendous animations Paranorman (2012) and The Boxtrolls (2014).

Let The Right One In (2008)

If you have patience for the slow-paced stuff, you might enjoy the ethereal art-house beauty of this Swedish vampire drama. It may difficult to pinpoint what the movie is exactly about (it's really that weird), but generally speaking it is an utterly original coming-of-age tale which happens to have some blood-sucking vampires in it. The U.S. of A. was quick to remake this one for the Anglocentric audiences (Let Me In, 2010), but I cannot imagine it being worth the time of anyone who has seen the riveting original. Here's some free advice to the language experts in Hollywood: some of us can actually follow subtitles.

Kill List (2011)

Hailed as the definitive kitchen-sink horror of recent British cinema, the deeply unsettling Kill List will probably haunt you long after seeing it – regardless of whether you hated or enjoyed its grueling display of exploitation and social realism. Swedish-born actress MyAnna Burling (who also stars in the all-female cast of The Descent) has a great supporting role as a formidable militant-turned-housewife, who coaxes her psychologically crippled husband back to gainful employment early on in the film. And it soon becomes apparent that the husband's new gig entails a fair share of bullet casings and corpses; who knew that traveling salesmen led such hazardous lives?

Audition (1999)

How does one begin describing Takashi Miike's unholy union of surgical torture and romantic comedy? WTF springs to mind. And perhaps OMFG. The shock value of the film is best summed up by the fact that one alarmed British film critic allegedly called for the authorities to investigate the circumstances of its making. The excruciating feel of the picture is heightened by the mercurial model-turned-actress Eihi Shiina, whose jaw-dropping performance as Asami made her a lasting cult icon in horror cinema. However, I may be over-hyping the intensity just a bit: it's quite possible that Audition would make for a fun blind date film during Halloween. And don't worry if the legendary finale sends your date running out of the door screaming; they're just off to tell all their friends that they really need to see this one. Kiri, kiri, kiri!