Women in Horror Month is upon us yet again! A time to celebrate, publicise and discover female talent both on screen and behind the camera. If you want to find out more about Women in Horror Month please click on the heart above to be sent to the Facebook page. This year I’ve decided on a list of my favourite Women in Horror scenes in post-2000 movies.
I am terrible for deciding on a “TOP 5/10!” list and then backing out last minute when I can’t quite find it in myself to rank one over the other, so we’ll just do away with that straight away. Mainly I want to just celebrate some scenes where relationships between women are explored – given the rate at which women are pitted against one another within the genre, it felt important to include a few that involve women working together or finding common ground. In addition, the idea of women taking control of their situations is also explored. There will be some spoilers, so if you see a title you’ve not seen, maybe skip to the next one, or else risk some potential plot points spoiled.
Let’s get this one out of the way first – Martyrs is an incredible film, but one that is very often lauded for its strong themes of torture and inclusion of a great deal of gore. This is often at the expense of talking about the film’s more subtle sequences where the themes of torture give way to that of human nature and protection of other human beings. It is also an incredibly female-centric film. There are few men in the film and even less have any influence. The entire thing appears to be orchestrated by Mademoiselle, using men only as unnamed ‘muscle’ for breaking the girls’ spirits and engineering surgeries. Everyone who knows me knows I’m capable of crying all the way through Martyrs and the scene with Anna and a girl she finds in the hidden compound is probably the point at which crying becomes full-on sobbing. Anna, at this point in the film has discovered a killing spree undertaken by her best friend, been forced to make a decision about protecting the mother while preparing a mass grave and then lost said best friend in horrific circumstances.
At this point, it would be so easy for Anna to become an emotionally closed, stoic, revenge-machine, ignoring anything else that doesn’t further her own need for answers. However, when Anna is met with the sight of another girl who has been imprisoned, she does not ignore her, choosing instead to run a bath and comfort her. The horror first achieved by the decayed appearance of the girl soon gives way to an incredibly touching moment in which the girl grasps Anna’s hand – an extraordinary act of trust considering the torture she has been through and the fact that she is blinded by her metal bindings. The scene where Anna begins to remove the metal staples is excruciating viewing and punctuated by the girl reaching out for her throughout. It is a scene of Anna transferring her care to another woman as transference for her lost Lucie and also of foreboding for what is to happen to her.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find a video of this scene in particular and as it is a new film, want to avoid too many spoilers. The film is currently on iTunes however, so if this whets your appetite, you can go check it out pretty much immediately. At the centre of any vampire film there seems to be a romance and Chimères is no different in this respect – however, many of these romances tend toward seeing the female as needing protection from a suddenly stronger, often more dangerous lover. In the case of Chimères, Alex is the one who needs to be protected from his new condition and even the outside world by girlfriend Livia. Chimères views vampirism as inducing the usual tropes of strength and voracious sexual appetite, but maintains Alex as a fragile character, struggling to deal with the changes.
There are several moments in which Livia shows her support, ranging from gentle, thoughtful measures like meal preparation to taking more desperate (and kick-arse) measures. The scene in question, however, is one where Livia takes matters into her own hands and offers herself as a source of blood for Alex. Again, it’s a familiar trope in vampire lore – perhaps most famously dealt with in Buffy where in order to save Angel, the titular Slayer offers her blood to him, but Chimères is all the more effective for the fact that Livia is a normal girl. The whole film features a knock-out performance by Jasna Kohoutova as Livia – a woman who is shown as immensely complex – simultaneously lost and fiercely in control. I really hope to see more work by Jasna within the genre.
American Mary (2012)
Another film that was pretty much a given on this list and one with plenty of scenes to choose from. For me though, the most powerful is Ruby Real Girl’s surgery and her discussion beforehand with Mary Mason – a medical student starting to take on body modification work to make more money. While Beatress provides some comic relief beforehand, when it is just Ruby and Mary together, the scene becomes all the more serious and features talk about female objectification. At first glance, Ruby’s desire for surgery seems to be a novelty, even fetishistic, but the conversation soon reveals that it is something far deeper.
Through the act of removing her nipples and sewing her private parts to change their appearance to that of a doll, she explains that she is aiming to stop being sexualised and by choosing to be a doll, even regressing to a childhood state. This scene is also perhaps the first step to Mary understanding more about the world she’s entering into and the reasons why people choose to alter themselves in such extreme ways. The ensuing surgery scene is also masterful in its execution, utilising extreme close-ups and careful placement of props to obscure the surgery and in doing so, avoids it becoming too graphic. All except for a few small flaps of skin being discarded to the floor.
The Woman (2011)
Admittedly, I’ve written about this scene before as part of the Ghostface Girls in a debate article about our most disturbing scenes (link here). Still, I’d like to include the same scene here as I feel it makes an impact about the relationship between two women. Unfortunately, or fortunately, perhaps I couldn’t find a video of the moment itself so you’ll just have to use your imagination, or watch the film first. Spoilers ahead…
The Woman is perhaps one of the most bleak films I’ve watched, with various acts of torture and sexual violence against the titular character who is ripped from her feral existence and kept captive by the husband of a family of women he is also abusing. His teenage daughter is pregnant, and there are hints that he may be the father, such are his levels of abuse and depravity. His long-suffering wife, Belle (played to perfection by Angela Bettis) is almost a sympathy figure, until it is made obvious that her fear has made it so that she has allowed the abuse to continue onto her own children.
While this is played as a subtext throughout the film, the climax makes things very clear about how the Woman feels about her. The Woman is protective over the two daughters, yet when face to face with Belle, attacks her violently. It is a vicious display of how Belle has, albeit inadvertently, contributed to the abuse by not seeking to free her. It is a controversial point, as no one could expect Belle to intervene for fear of the fallout from her husband, but still illustrates how bad things happen when fundamentally good people fail to help.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Last but not least – Ginger Snaps and a second appearance for genre-favourite Katherine Isabelle. This scene is perhaps less impactful than many of the others, but what is important about it, to me at least, is that it takes what can be a rite of passage during teenage years, yet twists it into a further example of a girl trying to save her sister. Piercing, particularly DIY ones (although I’d heavily advise against anyone trying it…just don’t, see a proper piercer), seemed to be pretty common when I was in secondary school so the scene holds some realism. It also serves as a brilliant way of modernising the silver for killing werewolves mythology for a thoroughly modern tale.
More than that though, even when the sister’s bond is really established by the fantastic opening sequence of gory photographs the pair have created, this is the point at which they are trying to maintain the relationship through doing traditionally ‘teenage’ things. The spiralling of Ginger’s condition is contrasted with Brigitte’s panic and desperation, culminating in the delivery of the single word, “wicked” – an indication that all attempts to ‘fix’ Ginger are ultimately futile.
All in all, these scenes are those which have made the most impact to me and the fact that they are all post 2000 and feature a few different female identities give me hope that the diversity in horror as a whole will continue to grow and soon a list like this will be impossible to narrow down to just five examples. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and you can contact me on twitter (@caitlynmdowns) with any comments or even film recommendations.