Women In Horror Month: Final Girls and Psychotic Women. (9-7)
Once again I bring you three more women of horror. From the spine-chilling and the sadistic to the tragic heroine.The Horror genre is versatile in terms of the different types of characters it portrays, I hope that the choices about to be discussed will illustrate the eclectic mix that’s on offer. Here is part three of my Women in Horror Recognition Month coverage. I am really enjoying working on this mini-project and would like to thank everyone for their support and feedback especially the shares and re-tweets on Twitter. You’re all awesome. **Gory Hugs**
Oh and here’s the obligatory SPOILER WARNING. Therefore if you haven’t seen the films I’m about to discuss go check them out then return…!
9. Angela Baker, The Sleepaway Camp Series (1983-2008)
- Played By Felissa Rose and Pamela Springstein
- Written and Directed By Robert Hiltzik
- Sequels Directed By Michael A. Simpson & Written By Fritz Gordon
Now this addition to the countdown may be a little complicated for two key reasons. The first is that Angela (Felissa Rose) technically isn’t female. For those of you who are fans of the bizarrely warped 80’s slasher Sleepaway Camp, you’ll be aware that the most iconic aspect of the entire film was it’s shock-tastic ending that not only reveals the sweet, misunderstood Angela as the killer but she is also genetically a boy! The welcome yet fascinating surprise deviates Sleepaway Camp from *just* being the run-of-the-mill slasher like many that emerged that decade even receiving it’s own spoof in the stop-motion animation comedy series Robot Chicken (2005-) where it’s exclaimed “somebody remembered this movie and wrote a comedy sketch about it”. Well myself and Seth Green certainly did! The second problematic element faced when discussing Angela is the subsequent sequels.
Now some fans like to disassociate Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989) from the original but for me they are too entertaining and enjoyable to disregard. Felissa Rose was concentrating on her university studies at the time of filming therefore had to decline reprising the role (she does however make a comeback in Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008)). Pamela Springstein stepped in as a more confident, post-sex change Angela, the only similarity being she still has a lust for the blade and now as a camp counselor she rids “Camp Rolling Hills” of the morally corrupt teenagers it inhabits! Now it’s fair that Angela qualifies for this list as she has lived as a female her entire life and eventually underwent reassignment surgery to do so; so it counts!
The opening of the original Sleepaway Camp introduces young children Angela and Peter on a boating lake with their father. Following a tragic accident that sees their boat flip over, the family attempt to swim to shore but are subsequently wiped out by an incoming motorboat. Due to some clever editing techniques it is presumed that Peter and his Father are now dead! Fast forward a few years later and cousins Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) and Angela are heading to Camp Arawak for the summer where her murderous rampage begins! Towards the climax the film reveals that Angela’s Aunt was behind transforming young Peter into his deceased sister Angela, creating the “daughter” she always wanted. It’s then heavily implied that Angela’s deviant and anti-social behavior is a product of discovering her father’s homosexual tendencies. Freud would certainly have a field day! However its not difficult to feel empathy for Angela due to her confusing upbringing, leading to a gender/identity crisis as well as the constant bullying she receives from the more well-developed girls at camp that illustrate her insecurities. There’s plenty of symbolism in place that hints at Angela’s true identity in her kills, alpha bitch Judy (Karen Fields) is raped with a hot straightening iron for example. With a cold, icy stare, Felissa Rose plays the vulnerable Angela fantastically bringing in her own youth and innocence to the role. Springstein’s interpretation however is far more campy and menacing but still an incredibly fun performance to watch and she does use some creative methods to murder those who don’t live up to her “moral ideals” namely sexual activity and cursing. The character of Angela is definitely an interesting study of the psychotic female. Sleepaway Camp sets itself apart from other slashers of its time through its use of plenty of underlying subtext relating to gender, creative and well thought through kills and the fact it’s a seemingly innocent thirteen year old girl committing the gruesome murders. Compared to most, Sleepaway Camp demonstrated more authenticity by featuring teenagers portraying their actual ages. On the surface there is a lot of sleaziness but Sleepaway Camp is far more sophisticated than it’s given credit for. Felissa Rose’s performance marks the original film as ahead of it’s time by exploring avenues that the majority of slashers of the time never dared to.
8. The Grand High Witch, The Witches (1990)
- Played By Anjelica Huston
- Directed By Nicholas Roeg
- Written By Roald Dahl (Novel), Allan Scott (Screenplay)
Now for some kiddie-horror. Like many children growing up in the 90’s, this woman haunted my nightmares! Since watching more Nicholas Roeg films over the years, most recently The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976); I finally have an understanding of the warped, nightmarish vision that’s prominent in his work and he certainly doesn’t tone it down for a film aimed at a family audience. Roeg takes an unsettling approach to the material and uses intense close ups especially in the more frightening moments.
There is nothing redeeming about The Grand High Witch who originally emerged from literature, in Roald Dahl’s twisted, fantasy novel. However it’s sensational actress Anjelica Huston that brings this wicked witch to life in a spine-chilling and unforgettable performance. Her character enters the film later on following a careful set-up that establishes what the witches of this universe are capable of. Once she’s made her entrance her presence is really felt as Anjelica Huston delivers one of children’s cinema’s most scariest performances. I’m pretty sure when this film has been broadcast on television it comes with a content warning. Merging between beautiful and grotesque, The Grand High Witch sets out to achieve one objective, to rid the world of children by introducing a special formula she has personally brewed. She organizes a convention at a picturesque English hotel bringing together a large number of witches to do her bidding of transforming the children into mice then squishing them! The face she displays to the world is actually a disguise, underneath the mask is a monstrous creature that’s incredibly unnerving created with special effects courtesy of Jim Henson’s creative make up department. When willing to reveal her true identity, the Grand High Witch literally peels her face off! Nasty Stuff. She wears a wig in order to hide her bald, bloody scalp, gloves to shield her long, sharp fingernails and flat shoes to disguise her toe-less feet. Fear not though as this evil woman does not succeed in her plans and is thwarted by a young boy named Luke (Jansen Fisher) and his knowledgeable Grandmother (Mai Zetterling). The meddling duo literally give her a taste of her own medicine through slipping the formula into the hotel soup. Before her demise, the Grand High Witch once more transforms into a freakishly over-sized rat that is almost as nightmare-fuel worthy as what’s under her mask! The Grand High Witch is one woman of horror I’ve never, ever forgotten and the film as a whole may be partially responsible for my curiosity of the genre from a young age. Whether in awe of or feared, The Grand High Witch is one sinister creature.
7. Helen Shivers, I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
- Played By Sarah Michelle Gellar
- Directed By Jim Gillespie
- Written By Lois Duncan (Novel), Kevin Williamson (Screenplay)
Neither a psychotic woman or a final girl, this character is a rarity in the genre, the best friend archetype being preferred over the heroine herself. In this case it’s down to the strong writing and acting that brings the character to life. Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a young woman with her whole future ahead of her. Wavering on the superficial side, Helen dreams of escaping the small town life and venture to New York to become a famous actress. Helen is aware of her looks and uses them to get where she wants to be and is particularly proud of her long, blonde locks. When we are introduced to her she is the winner of the local beauty pageant, the girlfriend of the high school football star Barry Cox (Ryan Phillipe) and best friend of the protagonist Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt). However Helen’s life changes forever on that fateful 4th of July night where the four friends including Julie’s boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) accidentally run over a mysterious bystander lurking in the middle of the road. Fearing him dead, the foursome decide to dispose of his body in the ocean. On doing so, the fisherman momentarily comes back to life stealing Helen’s pageant crown which Barry then retrieves for her down the murky depths of the sea.
A year later and Helen is a shadow of her former self. The pretty, blonde, hopeful actress is now gone and in place is a tormented, lonely girl who’s constantly watching her back. Seemingly just going through every day life, the realization of her part in the hit and run crime is restored when Julie brings the gang back together after receiving a threatening note claiming “I know what you did last summer”. On the surface Helen comes across as the typical, blonde female that is more than often butchered by a hooded killer in films of this nature and in theory she is. However due to some smart writing on the part of Kevin Williamson and a fiery performance from Sarah Michelle Gellar, Helen is more than meets the eye creating a sense of empathy with her. She has always been a far more interesting character to watch over Julie as the audience realize she is more than just a weak victim offered up to the killer. The killer fisherman raises the stakes with Helen over Julie as he cuts off her most prized possession while asleep, her long, golden hair, signifying the depth and change in her character. Gellar’s on-screen chemistry with Phillipe is electrifying, making Helen and Barry a believable couple that genuinely care about each other.
After witnessing Barry’s murder in a room full of people from the stage of the Croaker Queen pageant, Helen is an emotional wreck, stripping away any facade she may have previously had. She struggles to be believed by the police and even up until her final moments, she isn’t afraid to fight back and prove her resourcefulness just like any true final girl would. She runs and takes refuge in her snarky, older sister Elsa’s (Bridgette Wilson) store, hiding from the killer then jumping out of a window and running to safety. Sadly, she is too late, as she gets closer to the 4th of July parade and the comfort of crowds of people, the fisherman catches up with her, slicing her up with a hook. Helen is a tragic victim and her presence is even felt in the not-so-memorable sequel, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) where Julie reminisces about her deceased friend by picking up a photograph of her taken from the pageant as Hooverphonic’s Eden plays non-diegetically. What’s interesting about the character is that she is a product of the post-Scream slasher where it was self-awareness over stereotype. Williamson offered a female, horror movie character who the audience could care about despite killing her off in order to raise the stakes and create suspense. Helen’s death is still considered to be one of the most remembered of this era, despite the film not gaining the popularity that was intended for it. Well rounded and dynamic, despite not surviving, Helen still deserves a place as a woman of horror.
Hayley Alice Roberts