Kill the Girl
A list of 10 horror films that made me a woman
By Jules Brudek
Warning: Spoilers up ahead.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The idea that you could be raped by the devil after ingesting homemade chocolate mouse terrified me. No one puts the devil’s seed in me without my permission. And no one puts anything into my deserts without asking me first. And What? Her husband, Guy Woodhouse, a shifty-eyed narcissist, played by John Cassavetes, didn’t even flinch when Beelzebub left so many scratches. This film came to typify a woman’s trapped existence as a homemaker. Rosemary, “Barefoot and pregnant” and literally at the mercy of all the men in her life, had to accept her plight, presented in a chilling ending that spoke volumes about a woman’s place in society. Shut up and do what you were made to do and everything will be fine – be a baby maker!
The Pyx (1973)
Prostitutes are usually the first to be picked off by serial killers and madmen alike, but what if the devil was a pimp? The Pyx is a Canadian horror film about religion and sexual revolution. Unlike Rosemary’s Baby, Elizabeth Lucy, played by Karen Black in an unforgettable role as a strung out upscale-ish prostitute, isn’t anyone’s wife. Sexually free and able to live the way she wants, the devil still clips at her heels. The film’s underlying message: Women, like Elizabeth, still have many demons of their own to fight. Even in a life of her own making, Elizabeth struggles with the illusory nature of life as a free woman. Scary stuff indeed.
The Stepford Wives (1975)
Before they were films, both Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, were novels written by Ira Levin. Leave it to a man to fully capture the frightful female experience. Finally, my fears were understood. While The Pyx was released the same year as the landmark Roe v Wade decision in the United States granting women the constitutional right to choose to have an abortion or carry their pregnancies to term, The Stepford Wives arrived in theaters as droves of women joined the work force and enjoyed more than just sexual freedom. Viewed as a direct retaliation to those revolutionary changes, The Stepford Wives placed women back at the homestead. Joanna, played by Katherine Ross, leaves her charmed city life as a photographer and moves with her husband and children to a repressive 50s style suburb where all the women behave eerily submissive. The last shot of Joanna’s eyes haunts me to this day.
I watch this film at least three times a year. Laurie Strode, a wonderfully cast Jamie Lee Curtis in her feature film debut, aspires to be understood by her friends, however, that which makes her different, saves her life. The proverbial good girl, she baby-sits on Halloween while her friends party. As a babysitter myself in high school, making jackolanterns in some kid’s kitchen, I can relate to the people pleasing weekend job. Laurie is a no nonsense lady waiting to break out her babysitter paychecks and dance the night away with Ben Tramer. Ultimately, she needed a little more time to find herself. Unfortunately, Michael came home and changed her life forever. Instantly, she had to abandon her girlhood insecurities and save the children and herself from imminent death. Because Laurie Strode was the exception and not the every woman, she was able to face The Shape and survive.
I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
When Jennifer leaves New York behind and goes on vacation to Connecticut to write a novel, local thugs begin to pester her. The stalking escalates until, in a humiliating scene, they burn her manuscript and finally, sodomize her brutally. The ultimate in revenge movies, I Spit on Your Grave doesn’t offer a gentle resolution as Jennifer pursues her assailants and gives them back the abuse she endured. She doesn’t stop with torture though and eventually savagely kills them. People, including feminists and movie critics hated this film, I, on the other hand, embraced its approach. By the time I had gotten around to watching this film, I was very tired of watching women victimized in horror movies. I was ready for a change and I Spit on Your Grave was a revelation. If you’ve ever wanted revenge for unfair treatment then you might understand this film and revel in its extremism.
Aboard the spaceship, Nostromo, under the operating computer system, aptly named MOTHER, a warrant officer, Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, becomes the only human to destroy the alien species that killed every member of her crew. As the sole survivor of Nostromo, (if you don’t count the cat, Jones) she saves the human race and then, heads back to Earth all in a day’s work. Basically, this film is Halloween in space with a tougher, more mature Laurie Strode that doesn’t need the help of Dr. Loomis. Alien’s treatment of Ripley as an action hero defies all stereotypes and (like Linda Hamilton in T2) still seems ahead of its time. Badass.
Cayce Bridges, played by Ally Sheedy, is a psychic that uses her abilities to help the police department locate missing persons, usually the victims of heinous crimes. One day, she finds a missing girl by following her killer by tapping into his thoughts. In a wicked twist, the killer has the same gift and begins to control Cayce’s mind by tormenting her with disturbing images of his staggering crimes. Think: Silence of the Lambs with a psychic instead of Clarice Starling or Eyes of Laura Mars, updated.
The early 90s seemed to explode with experimental sound design and Fear was no exception. The strength of this film lies in the sound, a mixture of haunting whispers and shrill zingers, all used as arresting cues before each violent act that flashes through Cayce Bridges’s mind. In the end, Cayce keeps her head in the game, never letting the killer take over her thoughts. The film can be seen as metaphor for women in high positions. Eleven years after Alien, women are taking over corporations, becoming leaders and learning to take it like a man. Whatever you do: don’t cry under pressure.
When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)
This sequel to When a Stranger Calls is far better than its predecessor. When a Stranger Calls Back is a Showtime made for TV movie about a babysitter, Julia Jenz, played by Jill Schoelen, terrorized by a man outside the home she’s working in. The quote, “The call is coming from inside the house,” originated with the first film, When a Stranger calls, and re-invents itself nicely in this film. For a horror junkie like me When a Stranger Calls Back has everything: A vintage ventriloquist doll, a haggard cop, an unrelenting killer that won’t die, a creepy hospital stay, abducted children and Carol Kane, reprising her role as Jill Johnson from the original film. Two tough survivor ladies with survivor stories, Jill and Julia, tag team to save the day and overpower the twisted serial killer. Two ladies! Also, this film has the most unique twist involving how the killer hides in the house. Downright chilling!
The House of the Devil (2009)
In horror films, women are either babysitters or prostitutes, get used to it. The House of the Devil is a marriage of two films on the list, Rosemary’s baby and Halloween. Sounds played out, sure, but the film’s mastery lies in its simplicity. In the end, what works best about the film is the character development. All the actors in The House of the Devil turn in near perfect performances. The film’s pace has always been a bone of contention with horror fans and reviewers, but I think the pace adds to the film’s mystery. With a bit part as the landlady, Dee Wallace is sure to make horror fans smile. And in the end, the film’s message is clear: Times were simpler, once upon a time, when women were just vesicles for the devil’s brood. Ironic, the list has come full circle; Women having babies for Satan.
The Woman (2011)
I’ll end with the film that haunts grown up Jules. The synopsis is over simplistic for a film whose major themes have bludgeoned my brain open and destroyed my obstinacy regarding horror films, making it possible for me to appreciate new levels of fear. I will leave this one up to you to watch ASAP. I will not divulge the plot. Upon seeing this twisted little secret of a film, I felt my understanding for my womanhood reach new depths. After all, a captive animal treated poorly, will become what you made it.
More about the writer: Born in Detroit, Michigan, Jules Brudek has been collecting issues of Mad Magazine and Fangoria since she was nine years old, even long after her worried mother drove her to city dump and made her throw them away. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2006 with a BA in Film. She has won awards for her screenplays, most recently, placing in the Quarter Semi Finals in the 2015 Script Pipeline. Life highlight: Attending a discussion about the obscure horror film, Raw Meat AKA Death Line (1973), and meeting the director, Gary Sherman. She lives in Los Angeles.