Friday the 13th is the perfect example of the underrated roles women often play in horror. Hockey mask wearing Jason Voorhees takes all the credit throughout the film. We watch the scenes of murder unfold from the killer’s perspective, with a gloved hand shown here or a hefty boot shown there, and we presume the killer is male. In the end, the rug is pulled out from beneath us as we realize it is, in fact, the mother of Jason killing off these inattentive camp counselors who were more interested in getting freaky than in watching children like her son (who drowned). Unlike stereotypical male killers who thrive on the act of slashing and the power it brings, Pam Voorhees has a personal, vengeful motive. Truly, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” If you’ve seen any of the following horror movies starring evil female villains, you can see why.
Best Evil Female Horror Villains
Carrie & Margaret White (Carrie, 1976): After being doused in pig’s blood by the cool kids, Carrie uses her telekinetic powers to destroy everyone in a fiery inferno. What makes Carrie a compelling villain is that her meek demeanor elicits genuine sympathy. Your heart goes out for her as a victim of bullying, from her peers and her mother. One could easily argue that Margaret White wins top honors as the better villain in this movie. Whether you see her as mentally ill, a religious zealot, or simply abusive, this off-the-rails mother tells her daughter menstruation is the result of sinful thoughts, locks her in the closet, and forces her to pray for forgiveness before attempting to murder her for the “sin” of being a young woman.
Annie Wilkes (Misery, 1990): The scary thing about Annie, a nurse and “super fan” of Paul Sheldon romance novels, is her cheery smile, friendly wave, and ordinary sweaters. Evil lurks where you least expect it. Unbeknownst to her neighbors, she’s trapped a famous novelist in her home after rescuing him from a car crash during a blizzard. She assures him that help is on the way. To thank her, Sheldon gives Annie a sneak peek at his latest novel. She views it as a radical departure from his previous work and the film takes a dark turn as she uses a sledge hammer to give him added incentive to stay and write a new novel. Kathy Bates’ performance is utterly haunting.
Regan MacNeil (The Exorcist, 1973): Regan is just a sweet little girl who gets caught up in the occult by dabbling with a Ouija Board. Her condition rapidly goes downhill once the demonic spirit begins to take hold. She’s vomiting split pea soup, spinning her head in circles, and cursing like a sailor. Few moviegoers in the 1970s will ever forget her crab-walking, crucifix-defiling ways.
Samara Morgan (The Ring, 2002 & Ringu, 1996): At first, the spirit of a murdered little girl is pitiable. She just wants what anyone wants, really – freedom, truth, life. Yet, she has a dark past complete with curses, genetic abnormalities, and assault. She drives her adoptive parents mad, causing her mother to throw her into a well before hurling herself over a cliff. The malevolent spirit creates a videotape curse that gives viewers seven days to live unless the tape is copied and showed to someone. It’s a terrifying concept, but it’s the scenes of the newly freed Samara climbing out of the television that lingers in the mind.
Kayako (The Grudge, 2004 & Ju-on, 2002): Kayako led a lonely life, neglected by her parents, and eventually grew to marry and conceive a child. After reading her diary, her husband becomes convinced she’s been cheating and falls into a murderous rage. He attacked her with a knife in front of their son, chased her until she broke her ankle, twisted her head to break her neck, and left her in a black plastic bag to die. He then drowned the son in the bathtub and stashed his body in a closet. She returns as a wrathful spirit who strangles her husband with her hair and continues to haunt anyone who enters the house where she died. From her chilling death rattle to her spider walk on the walls, it’s hard to deny the creepiness of this lady. Worst of all, once she sets her sights on you, it’s the unavoidable kiss of death.
What makes female evil so scary?
“In contrast to oozing sores, flayed bodies, and nails in the skull, what did Charlize Theron need to do to play a so memorably, mortally gruesome a villainess and murderess that she won an Oscar for the role?” asks Gina Barreca, a feminist scholar, University of Connecticut English professor, and author.
“What Theron needed to do in ‘Monster’ was gain a little weight and not do her hair properly.” She wasn’t disfigured, possessed, or an alien hybrid. She had some prosthetic teeth, weird eyebrows, and smeared makeup. “Actually, they don’t even need to do that: they need to cry, yell, and make a scene,” Barreca argues. “It’s tricky for a female actor to play a horror-queen role on the screen because, as one of my male friends put it, the phrase ‘scary woman is redundant.’”
That may be a bit harsh, and a number of the creepy female villains we’ve mentioned here are totally twisted looking, but she has a valid point in that women represent the hidden terrors, the emotional and vindictive side of human nature, the femme fatale that retains sex appeal even after such heinous acts have been committed.
Dig Deeper into the Realm of Women in Horror
Unfortunately, we don’t have the space here to really get into shifting dynamics of women in horror, but if you’re interested in the topic, you can check out Carol Clover’s “Men, Women, and Chainsaw” for the feminist perspective. After you’re done reveling in all the truly terrifying females in horror, check out The Horror Dome’s collection of women’s Halloween costumes
to find your favorite look.
More resources on women in horror: