On the surface, horror and feminism don’t seem to mix well. The film industry itself is dominated by men, but horror is especially chock full of sexist tropes and air-headed female characters. For example, the “final girl” phenomenon, where the last living female character comes face to face with the killer, is misogynistic in its origins. Is it a coincidence that all of the female characters murdered before her were sexually promiscuous and the only woman left to tell the story is a “good girl” (read: virgin)? Probably not.
Despite its shortcomings, horror has actually been a useful genre for exploring female sexuality, sisterhood, and women’s bodies in empowering ways, especially when women are the ones behind the camera. So if you’re tired of watching male directors create one-dimensional female characters whose only purpose is to serve the male gaze, I highly recommend these feminist alternatives.
1. Into the Dark: Pure (2016)
As it suggests in the title, Pure is about two teenage sisters who unknowingly unleash a supernatural presence during their stay at a Christian purity camp. The fathers of the girls attend the retreat with them and learn how to “protect” their daughters from male desire while the creepy male pastor and retreat leader teaches teenage girls how to hate their bodies. Pure turns everything I hate about traditional horror movies inside out and manages to tell a story about race, sexuality, and the desire to control women. It also gives a shoutout to our favorite Biblical character, Lilith. It's a part of the Into the Dark series on Hulu.
2. Black Christmas (2019)
The 2019 remake of the 1974 Black Christmas wasn’t very well received by fans of the original version. However, I think it’s a great tribute to one of the earliest slasher films, especially because it takes a stab at college fraternity culture. At Hawthorne College, sorority sisters begin disappearing one by one, until Riley, a member of MKE, suspects something is wrong. She brings her concerns to the police but they shortly dismiss her when she accuses the DKO fraternity of playing a part in the disappearances. There’s black magic, secret societies, and a wonderfully executed rape-revenge plot. Definitely check this one out if you’re tired of watching slasher films where every woman is brutally murdered. Watch it on Prime Video.
3. The Love Witch (2016)
The Love Witch is arguably the most aesthetically pleasing movie on this list. Its style recalls 1960s pulp fiction novels and pays tribute to the Technicolor thrillers of the 1970s. Elaine, a beautiful young witch who fittingly lives in a Victorian-style home in Northern California, concocts potions and practices rituals in hope of finding her true love. Unfortunately, her spells are too strong for her lovers, often driving them to insanity or suicide. It’s only when Elaine begins to leave a trail of men behind that a local detective takes notice and threatens to end her search. Anna Biller (a badass) directed, wrote, and served as the movie’s production designer, costume designer, editor, AND composer. It’s a must-watch and it's available on Vudu.
4. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
A Tale of Two Sisters is a Korean psychological thriller that deals with mental illness and grief in addition to having well-rounded female protagonists. Sisters Su-Mi and Su-Yeon return home from a mental hospital after suffering from shock and psychosis. It’s not exactly clear as to how they ended up in the hospital, but there’s tension between them and their cruel stepmother. As the sisters start to witness supernatural events happening in the house, they also learn about their stepmother’s sinister past. You can watch it on Prime Video.
5. Prevenge (2016)
As ridiculous as it sounds, Prevenge is about Widow Ruth, a pregnant woman who believes her fetus is telling her to commit murder. Her partner died in a climbing accident shortly before her paranoia begins, so it’s not a coincidence that she murders everyone involved in the accident. Prevenge reinvents the traditional slasher film and I recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of comedy horror and dark humor. Watch it on Prime Video.
6. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a film about a nameless Iranian girl who seduces Saeed, a cruel drug dealer and pimp, into her apartment. However, Saeed doesn’t get what he expected because the girl grows fangs, bites his finger off, and drains all of the blood from his body. Her other interests include listening to music, skateboarding, and tormenting pedestrians. This is usually how her nights go until she meets Arash, and resists drinking his blood after he shows her compassion. In vampire mythology, vampires usually embody the anxieties of the society they live in, such as female sexuality, immigration, or miscegenation. According to the director, Ana Lily Amirpour, “A vampire is so many things: serial killer, a romantic, a historian, a drug addict - they’re sort of all of these things in one.” Watch it on YouTube for $2.99.
7. Tragedy Girls (2017)
Tragedy Girls is another modern slasher film where women are at the forefront of the narrative. Two teenage girls, McKayla Hooper and Sadie Cunningham, run a true crime blog and go to great lengths to get more followers. After trying to catch serial killer Lowell Orson to gain followers, they decide to go on a killing spree, blame it on Orson, and use the murders as blog content. Its style recalls But I’m a Cheerleader (but with murder) and I would even call it a modern-day Heathers with social media. It's available for streaming on Hulu.
8. The Witch (2015)
Directed by Robert Eggers, The Witch is about a family that settles in the New England wilderness after being banished from their community in the early 1600s. One day the family’s eldest daughter, Thomasin, takes Samuel, her baby brother, out for a walk when he mysteriously vanishes. What ensues is the family’s spiral into hysteria and proclaimed possession, all the while accusing Thomasin of witchcraft and being responsible for Samuel’s disappearance. The Witch provides us with a wonderful account of puritan culture through the use of horror. You can stream it on Netflix.
9. Jennifer's Body (2009)
Hear me out on this one. Yes, Jennifer’s Body caters to the male gaze in every possible way by marketing the film to teenage boys and sexualizing cannibalism. However, I think it deserves a spot on this list. Jennifer, a high school cheerleader played by Megan Fox, finds herself in the center of a satanic ritual after meeting a local indie band. Little does she know that they don’t actually want to hang out but plan to sacrifice a virgin to Satan so that they can get famous. However, things start to go south when Jennifer wakes up after the sacrifice with a taste for male flesh, because (surprise!) she’s not a virgin. Her sacrifice speaks to the ways in which men exploit women to advance their careers and the movie has everything you could want from an early 2000s teen horror movie, especially gore. It's available on Hulu.
10. The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
If you’re tired of sci-fi narratives that exclude the experiences of women and people of color, I highly recommend The Girl With All the Gifts. Set in a dystopian future, humanity is ravaged by a disease that turns people into flesh-eating monsters, or “hungries” as they’re called in the film. Their last hope is the small group of children that eat human flesh but retain the ability to think for themselves. They’re restrained in wheelchairs and live in a prison-like system where they receive “education” and are subjected to experiments. One girl with a particularly high IQ, Melanie, resists the temptation to feed on Helen, who studies and educates the children. When the center is overrun by hungries, Melanie rescues Helen and they embark on a journey of friendship and survival. Watch it on Netflix.
Header image: screenshot from YouTube
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Grace Weinberg (she/they) is a senior at Simmons University pursuing BAs in English, Women's & Gender Studies, and Spanish in addition to interning at BUST. When she's not reading in bed with her french bulldog, you can find her rollerskating or watching the next feminist horror flick. Follow her on Twitter at @GraceWeinberg6.