Women In Horror Month: Final Girls and Psychotic Women. (12-10)
To continue the celebration of the fifth annual Women in Horror Recognition month, here’s some more feisty, fearless and fiendish females to sink your teeth into.
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Again there will be spoilers included therefore if you have not seen the films that feature these gory girls I’m about to discuss you have been warned!!
12. Nancy Downs, The Craft (1996)
- Played By Fairuza Balk
- Directed By Andrew Fleming
- Written By Peter Filardi and Andrew Fleming
Welcome to the witching hour! This is the first supernatural woman of horror to feature in this countdown. 90’s fantasy/horror The Craft tells the story of four teenage witches who dabble in the occult for their own gain. It has become a quiet, cult hit over the years and for me was one of the most significant films that dealt with both concepts of witchcraft and female empowerment. I first saw the film during my younger teen years, it proved impressionable and did influence me to dabble a little bit in Wicca without the negative effects of course! As mentioned The Craft featured four, young teenage girls all with their own issues and abilities however the standout character has to be troubled goth Nancy Downs. Fairuza Balk plays this antagonistic character with malice and a side of kookiness in an expressive performance. Nancy is the witch that takes her spell-casting too far, raising her levels of insanity as she loses control of all the destructive events in her life. When we first meet the gothic witch she is reluctant to accept new girl Sarah (Robin Tunney) into her coven which also consists of Bonnie (Neve Campbell) and Rochelle (Rachel True) but caves in when Bonnie insists they require a fourth member and Sarah is definitely “the one”. Nancy’s jealousy of Sarah grows throughout the film especially when her user ex boyfriend Chris (Skeet Ulrich) develops an interest in Sarah. In this case she demonstrates notions of sisterhood warning Sarah of Chris’s notorious reputation, also informing her she contracted an STD from him. When it comes to the crunch she provides him with his just desserts by using her powers of telekinesis and glamouring to push him out a window. Her home life isn’t much better, her mother’s seedy boyfriend often makes inappropriate remarks toward her and is abusive toward her mother, when enough is enough she uses her powers to cause him to have a heart attack.
Essentially Nancy is a murderer and grows more and more psychotic as the film goes on. Nancy’s hostility is down to rejection from her school mates, broken home life and negative sexual experiences. She is treated like an outsider and does embrace that to a degree by manipulating the elements around her. Nancy grows into a very powerful witch which is presented as a metaphor for a deep addiction. Her complex relationship with Sarah is interesting to watch, in the beginning she uses Sarah as a gateway to explore her own powers, they do bond however Sarah becomes frightened of what Nancy is capable of. Sarah’s only choice is to strip Nancy of her powers leaving her completely insane by the film’s end. The last we see of her is locked away in a mental institution unable to harm again. This is where Fairuza Balk really showcases her acting talents in an unforgettably disturbing scene. Nancy is one of the most feared women on this list and left a trail of destruction behind her. Twisted, stylish and completely derailed Nancy deserves a worthy place as a woman of horror as an example of a woman who’s perhaps too influential with more than she can handle.
11. Feral Woman, The Woman (2011).
- Played By Pollyanna McIntosh
- Directed By Lucky McKee
- Written By Jack Ketchum
The Woman is undeniably one of the most thought-provoking and disturbing pieces of horror to emerge so far this decade. The character of the feral woman is an interesting and different addition to the countdown as unlike the other characters included she hasn’t been conditioned into being an empowered female through specific gender ideals within society or her relationships with men. She is independent through her own means and has had to be tough through surviving in the wild. She is a fascinating study of a person who lacks social experience, displaying animalistic tendencies and how that contrasts women born into a society dominated by men. Through being known as simply “The Woman” it evokes a sense of ambiguity as to who she is and who she potentially could be. The film’s prime focus is on one middle-class male’s twisted experiment to “civilize” her into being submissive to him just like he’s enforced on his own wife and daughters. Unfortunately for sicko Chris Cleek (Sean Bridges) he may have asked for more than he bargained for! Through tormenting The Woman with torturous devices he only maintains a certain level of control. Cleek can only restrain The Woman but without those means the level of control is reversed and without knowing right from wrong she is not held responsible for what she is capable of. The Woman herself signifies the core of what it is to be a female being by taking away all the teachings and expectations women have been put upon and forced to accept throughout history. For Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter), Cleek’s conflicted daughter, The Woman represents an outlet for her to explore her full potential, signifying strength and independence. The Woman is a character that’s so close to the bone as she defines an overwhelmingly strong female, challenging the concepts set out by traditional gender roles and society’s expectations. The Woman certainly entices and welcomes feminist readings as her character construction of what she symbolizes is intriguing in several ways in relation to how she’s compared to the more obedient women within the film.
10. Marybeth Dunston, Hatchet II (2010)
- Played By Danielle Harris
- Written and Directed By Adam Green
With Adam Green’s 80’s throwback, splatter-fest Hatchet series, as well as a recognizable new killer, the films have presented the ideal, modernized final girl in the shape of Marybeth Dunston (Danielle Harris). Despite being played by another actress, Tamara Feldman in the first Hatchet installment, it’s legendary “Scream Queen” Danielle Harris’s performance that has shone through in the follow-up sequel as the young woman, tormented and hell-bent on revenge against murderous monster Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder). The strength that lies in Marybeth’s character is that she is self-aware, determined and fearless, willing to go to any lengths in order to defeat her opponent. She originally encounters the grotesque Hatchet-Face when its discovered that her father and brother were brutally murdered following a fishing trip to the murky swamp. With only one culprit in mind, Marybeth enlists the help of the cryptic Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) and a number of hunters and gunmen to assist her in yet another swamp visit to obliterate Crowley once and for all. When it comes down to the crunch, Marybeth is the one left standing as the bodies pile up. She certainly doesn’t hold back in the badass stakes as she takes Crowley on head first releasing all that pent-up anger by repeatedly bashing his head in with his own weapon. She then fittingly finishes off the job with a shotgun with no qualms about getting covered in blood! Marybeth is always one step ahead and outsmarts Reverend Zombie with his own dark plans to rid the world of Hatchet-Face. This also means that Marybeth has to deal with more than one villain in order to gain what she desires but still emerges the hero. Adam Green has written a final girl who is feisty, sophisticated, resourceful and capable. Marybeth’s character is the embodiment of what audiences need to be seeing from a final girl in recent times. It’s as if she represents a particular stock character who has evolved as the decades have gone on and is horror’s strongest current example. Instead of hiding from the killer, she takes matters into her own hands, she doesn’t play the victim and has a clear idea about what she wants. Head-strong and smart, Marybeth is the prime reason to watch the Hatchet films, strong women don’t get any better than this. I’d like to note that I’ve yet to see the third Hatchet film. Despite hearing some unpopular opinions it will still be an interesting watch to see what Marybeth does next when she is faced yet again with the gruesomely gore-tastic Victor Crowley.
Hayley Alice Roberts