Co-Written by Alissa Medina and Stephanie Watson
Let’s face it, unless you are male, able-bodied, cishet, or white, film directors love to make you into a horror trope. Horror movies build upon our anxieties and fears, and so every so often, films touch upon cringe-worthy shock stories of the feminine, non-binary, non-white, or disabled.
By featuring horrific mood swings, Freudian takes on motherhood, gruesome “bloody” periods, or the inability to control our oh-so-sexual deviance, the stereotypes of femalehood is also a constant and problematic trope. Add stories of immigration, race, LGBTQIAP+ or mental health issues that are also up for controversy, and these characters and storylines become metaphors for individual, social, and political horror.
However, it is socially-conscious filmmakers who truly turn the horror genre on its head. By reversing these tropes and revealing metaphoric horror of a different kind, audiences are able to enjoy films that radically alter cinema. So say hello to your spoiler-free Halloween 2017 watch-list.
TIGGER WARNING: Some of these films include rape, murder, racism and racially motivated violence, as well as bodily mutilation.
Get Out (2017)
If you think you can predict the twist of this movie, then you’re wrong, you’ll never see it coming I promise you. Actor, producer, director and writer Jordan Peele released this insta-classic at the start of the year, winning countless awards in the process. Without giving too much away, this movie is about systematic anti-blackness, racial stereotypes, and the hidden toxicities of white “allies.” This is by no means your average thriller; it’s original, well acted, and has a nice hint of subtle comedy sprinkled amongst the trepidation.
The VVitch (2016)
Set during the 17th century witch-hunt period in New England, VVitch is the story of an ostracised family trying to live their lives peacefully across from an ominous forest. Of course, what lives in that forest is the focal point of this story. Director Robert Eggers describes the story as a feminist film: “The VVitch,” he told USA Today, “isn’t just a horror movie for horror’s sake, but a story of female rebellion and accepting outsider status.” Agency, rumors, and sexism are all topics brought up in this dark and unsettling tale, in a way you’ll never expect.
Black Mirror: San Junipero (2016)
While technically not a movie, and mostly a very optimistic episode, the modern-day Twilight Zone series Black Mirror released it’s queer-friendly hour-long episode San Junipero in 2016. Defying the restraints of time and space, two women first meet each other in a crowded, 80’s-themed bar, only to reunite once again in a different world literally and figuratively. This current thriller features a variety of horror-inducing anxieties, including the skepticism of modern-day technology, the fear of mortality, and the lack of sentience.
The story of a deaf-mute woman who must outsmart her potential kidnappers in order to survive. Home invasion is a pretty logical fear to have, so it’s no wonder there are so many movies on this topic. But Hush has something they don’t have; a great female main character, and disability representation. Disability is not something well represented in horror, actually, disabled, chronically ill, and mentally ill people are usually the villains (See: Split, Saw, etc), but our deaf hero Maddie is the exception. Honorable mention also goes to the lesser known Audrey Hepburn 1967 film Wait Until Dark, a similar concept to Hush, but instead starring a blind woman.
A Girl Walks Home At Night (2014)
The first “Iranian feminist vampire western,” A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the anti-Twilight. It takes place in a fictional, underground Iranian town where our main character stalks the city at night, lusting for the blood of misogynists. The film has a powerful feminist twist that gives agency to the women of the city. We also can’t forget the amazing soundtrack. Read the full review on Fembot here.
In Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, humanity is exposed to the changing environment as an alien-like virus. Here, Edwards’ has chosen to make the “infected zone” on the U.S./Mexico border. Because of the film’s location, we are exposed to the corruption that lies in the geo-politics of immigration especially when the real horror lies in those that have to seek safety. As the film displays anxieties of ‘crossing the border’ a.k.a., the ‘infected zone’ the environment becomes the deformed, natural body politic that must be surveyed and controlled by the U.S. government.
28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle’s post-911, apocalyptic horror flick 28 Days Later reverses the zombie genre by reflecting on the horror of human nature. Zombies in this film act as a metaphor for our anxieties of government surveillance and the power that lies behind it. Selena, our kick-ass feminist protagonist of color, survives a variety of circumstances, including harsh gender-based discrimination and sexual assault. Her perseverance throughout it all, and her possible representation of becoming a symbol of overcoming the state, proves to be a worthy film to watch.
The Craft (1996)
A cult 90s classic that inspired the wardrobes of countless teenage girls everywhere. Another movie about witchcraft, The Craft is a story of sisterhood, betrayal, and taking back power that was stolen from you. After three witches in her new school discover that our main character Sarah has telekinesis, a coven is born. Their spells start off small, innocent, beneficial, but as their power grows, it becomes harder to control. The Craft includes one of the most quotes lines from any teen movie: “Girls watch out for the weirdos,” a bus driver condescendingly tells the four girls, “Mister,” says their leader Nancy, “We ARE the weirdos.”
Fire Walk With Me (1992)
A David Lynch classic that tells the story of a bisexual teenage girl, struggling with addiction, sexual abuse, and the supernatural. The less said about this movie the better, since you’re better off going in completely blank, but the movie is a visceral journey into teenage life, and the evil that men do. If you’re into alternate dimensions and slow burning terror, then you’ll eat this up. Though technically this movie can be enjoyed as a stand alone movie, since it’s a prequel and all, we still recommend you also watch the TV Show that started it all: Twin Peaks.
The 90s slasher horror that heightened our fear of wasps, is a must see this Halloween. While researching the Candyman urban legend in a predominantly black housing project in Chicago, scholar Helen finds herself face to face with the legend itself. But this movie is not your average Bloody Mary clone, it’s actually a social commentary on institutionalized poverty, addiction, and racism. How did the Candyman come into being? How did the social housing blocks become so run down? The urban legend reflects the truth. Be warned however, if you don’t already have a phobia of wasps, you might leave this film with one.
The cult classic Alien (1979) came out during the end of second-wave feminism, and instantly became a hit due to its surprise, gender-bending scenes. To some feminist scholars, Ridley Scott’s Alien represents a critique of men, and the anxieties they may have about the female body. The film’s “Mother” alien has the ability to force herself inside of bodies, including the bodies of men. The Alien (1979) franchise persisted after the cult following of the first movie, but the feminist underpinnings of the first movie remained a classic in feminist media theory.
David Cronenberg in his film Rabid (1977) blurs the boundaries of sex and gender. By featuring a fierce female role played by porn actress Marilyn Chambers, the film distinguishes itself as a feminist horror film. Rose undergoes experimental plastic surgery after a motorcycle accident with her boyfriend, giving her a strange, phallic appendage in her armpit. Her infectious, disease-like phallus leads her to question her agency, and coming to terms with a change in her body.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
The “aliens” in Don Sigel’s 1956 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers are able to organically reproduce and produce “pod people.” In this new era of reproduction, women are no longer needed to satisfy traditional hegemony as they no longer need to reproduce. The patriarchal control given by males is now overthrown and challenged by the birth and growth of the “pods.” This film questions gender as the roles of women as mothers, and wives and men as husbands, bread winners, and fathers are no longer needed in this society.