ITOL’s Top 10 Female Focused Horror Films

What does “Suspiria”, “Carrie”, “The Witch” and “The Hunger” have in common? Well, these horror films are not only directed by a male director and are terrifying to watch, but they also pass the Bechdel Test. If you have managed to make it through our 31 Days of Horror countdown and you’re still looking to be well and truly creeped out, then ITOL recommends these horror films which see women at the centre of their plot. The films included on this list aren’t necessarily directed by a female filmmaker, but they are unique because they all pass the Bechdel Test.

The films below all meet the criteria set out by the test: (1) it [the film] has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. So, without any further ado, here are some must-see horror films this Halloween. Enjoy!

Number 10: The Craft (1996)

Director: Andrew Fleming

Easily one of the best “slumber party” films out there, we’re sure that every teenage girl growing up during the 90s and 00s has seen “The Craft”, which is truly a bewitching film (excuse the pun) to enjoy this Halloween. The film follows new girl Sarah (Robin Tunney) who moves to Los Angeles high school where she finds that her telekinetic gift appeals to a group of three wannabe witches, who happen to be seeking a fourth member for their rituals. The girls, Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Rochelle (Rachel True) and Nancy (Fairuza Balk), all come from troubled backgrounds, just like Sarah. When a minor spell causes a fellow student to lose her hair, the girls grow power-mad and this quickly escalates out of control.

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“The Craft” is full of dark humour, but also taps into our need to feel included and accepted into a group. The film was a hit-making $55 million with a modest budget of just $15 million. A remake has been in the works for several years. And, in March 2019, it was announced that the remake is to be distributed by Columbia Pictures and produced by Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions company. Zoe Lister-Jones has signed on to write and direct, filming has recently started (on the 22nd October this year), so it’ll be interesting to see whether the remake will be as well-received as the original.

Where to watch:

Amazon Prime: Rent & Buy

Number 9: CAM (2018)

Director: Daniel Goldhaber

“CAM” is a psychological horror film which feels like an extended episode of “Black Mirror”, a disturbing neat little horror film which has an interesting concept but feels a little rushed towards the end. The film follows Alice (Madeline Brewer), an ambitious camgirl, who one day discovers she’s been replaced on her show with an exact replica of herself. As this copy begins to push the boundaries of Alice’s internet identity and completely takes over her ‘online’ life. Alice decided to find out the truth of the mysterious person who has taken her place, but what she discovers is far more disturbing then she could ever imagine.

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“CAM” taps into the paranoia of the online world (just who is watching us, and what dark secrets do they know), and how one can become obsessed with creating an online presence. The film blends together reality and fantasy, and like the character of Alice, we begin to question what we are being presented with is real or not. What makes “CAM” most interesting, is the fact that Screenwriter Isa Mazzei, was a former cam girl herself. She originally wanted to create a documentary film about cam girls but decided that a documentary was not the best medium, so found herself writing a horror film instead.

Where to watch:

Netflix

Number 8: The Hunger (1983)

Director: Tony Scott

This 1983 erotic horror film (which was actually Tony Scott‘s directional debut) follows a love triangle between two vampires John (David Bowie) and Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) and a young scientist Sarah (Susan Sarandon). John has been led to believe that he is to live forever, but he quickly deteriorates into a horrible living death. With John out of the picture, Miriam decides to focus all of her attention to seducing and turning Sarah. However, Sarah is reluctant to become one of the undead.

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Upon its release, “The Hunger” was critically panned, but it has become a cult classic. The film focuses on a lesbian relationship between Miriam and Sarah, which was pretty ahead of its time for 1983. And, there’s much to enjoy in terms of the film’s campy visuals and its very 80s soundtrack (they certainly don’t make films like this anymore). Roger Ebert described the film as “an agonizingly bad vampire movie” which is a little on the harsh side. We must admit that while “The Hunger” is not a perfect film, it’s hardly a complete disaster, so if you’re into 80s Vampire flicks, then go seek this one out.

Where to watch:

Amazon: Rent & Buy

Google Play: Rent & Buy

YouTube: Rent & Buy

Number 7: It Follows (2014)

Dir: David Robert Mitchell

In “It Follows” sex kills. David Robert Mitchell‘s film follows the character of Jay (Maika Monroe) who has a strange encounter with her new squeeze Hugh (Jake Weary) and discovers that she is now the latest recipient of a fatal curse that is passed from victim to victim via sexual intercourse. Death can come in any form whether it be in the form of a friend or a complete stranger, making it nearly impossible for Jay to escape her fate. At first, Jay’s friends don’t believe her seemingly paranoid ravings until they also start to see the phantom assassins. Jay and her friends must now band together to help her flee or defend herself, but can you actually escape It?

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Mitchell conceived the film based on recurring dreams he had in his youth about being followed: “I didn’t use those images for the film, but the basic idea and the feeling I used. From what I understand, it’s an anxiety dream.” Aside from being a twisted, disturbing dream brought to live, what is remarkable about “It Follows” is the fact that it is open to many interpretations from film critics and film lovers alike in regard to the source of “it” and the film’s symbolism (many believe it’s parable about HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections and our social anxieties that surround these diseases/infections).

Where to watch:

Amazon: Rent & Buy

iTunes: Rent & Buy

Google Play: Rent & Buy

Number 6: May (2002)

Dir: Lucky McKee

Cult film director Lucky McKee‘s debut “May” is a film worth seeking out this Halloween.  This film was an official box office bomb but has now gone on to become a favourite with Film Twitter. “May” is like a mash-up between “Carrie” and a modern-retelling of Frankenstein, if Tim Burton decided to remake both films. There’s much to enjoy here, with Bettis’ performance being delightful, as she sinks her teeth into the role.

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The film follows a young woman and a misfit called May (Angela Bettis) who endured a difficult childhood because of her lazy eye, being tormented by bullies. And though contact lenses have helped May adjust as a young adult, her deep-seated awkwardness remains a problem. She falls for Adam (Jeremy Sisto), a young man who also takes a shine to May’s oddball ways. However, May’s strangeness ultimately drives him away, leaving her open to the advances of her co-worker Polly (Anna Faris). When Polly dumps her too, May’s emotional instability turns violent, and she decides to create her own friend who will never leave her. This is an underrated horror gem, that more people should seek out.

Where to watch:

Amazon: Rent & Buy

Number 5: Carrie (1976)

Dir: Brian De Palma

What if I told you that not only does the 2013 remake of Stephen King’s “Carrie” pass the Bechdel Test, but Brian De Palma‘s 1976 adaptation also passes the test? You’ll probably be reluctant to believe me, but it’s the truth! Like May, Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is a shy and troubled young girl who is a social outcast and tormented by her peers. Carrie is also tormented by her fanatically religious mother (Piper Laurie). After being mocked for her reaction to starting her period, Carrie begins to use her newly developed powers of telekinesis to exact revenge upon her classmates, with devastating consequences.

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“Carrie” remains one of the most powerful films on bullying ever made, Sissy Spacek’s performance is superb as she truly is creepy, but also entirely sympathetic. “Carrie” is one of the best King adaptations ever to grace the big screen, as it doesn’t lose what works in the short novel, and also expands on the source material. The film’s twist ending still manages to get you every time you watch, and it’s perhaps one of the endings in cinematic history.

Where to watch:

iTunes: Rent & Buy

Google Play: Rent & Buy

Amazon: Rent & Buy

Number 4: Us (2019)

Director: Jordan Peele

Jordon Peele wowed us all back in 2017 with his directorial debut film “Get Out”, and many of us were left wondering just what his next film would be. Earlier this year Peele delivered another modern horror masterpiece in the form of “Us”. The film follows Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) who returns to her holiday beach house after a traumatic childhood experience, with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). Their holiday soon turns into a fight for survival when the family are attacked by a group of menacing doppelgängers.

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Apparently “Us” was Peele’s response to the confusion that many viewers and critics had trying to define “Get Out” Peele opted to make “Us” a full-on horror film and it most certainly is a horror in every sense of the word. With “Us” Peele pays homage to horror cinema, with references to Kubrick’s “The Shining” and 80s vampire flicks such as “The Lost Boys”, however, Peele manages to create something that is entirely unique and original in its own right. The film’s central performance by Nyong’o is proof that she is one of our generation’s most talented performers working today.

Where to watch:

Amazon: Rent & Buy

iTunes: Rent & Buy

Google Play: Rent & Buy

Number 3: The Witch (2015)

Director: Robert Eggers

Before Robert Eggers was scaring our pants off with a depiction of utter madness and chaos in the form of this year’s indie gem “The Lighthouse”, he was scaring our pants off with “The Witch” which chilled us to our very core. Set in 1630, this A24 horror delight follows William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) who have moved to New England in order to find a new life. They do their best to lead a devout Christian life, setting up their home on the edge of an impassible wilderness, with their daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and their four other children. When their newborn son mysteriously vanishes and their crops begin to die, the family begins to turn on one another.

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Eggers was born in New Hampshire and grew up with a fascination with witches. His obsession with the New England time period, Eggers only shot “with natural light and indoors, the only lighting was candles” and costume designer Linda Muir consulted 35 books in the Clothes of the Common People in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England series in order to create the costumes. The costumes were made with wool, linen, or hemp. The attention to detail helps to create an immersive experience like nothing else you’ll see on screen.

Where to Watch:

Amazon: Rent & Buy

iTunes: Rent & Buy

Google Play: Rent & Buy

Number 2: Suspiria (2018)

Director: Luca Guadagnino 

“Suspiria” is not a straight remake of the 1977 Italian film of the same title directed by Dario Argento, and that’s what makes Guadagnino’s film so fascinating before we even discuss Dakota Johnson‘s ‘career-best’ performance and those dance sequences. Guadagnino has since said explicitly that the film is not a remake, but is instead a “homage” to the “powerful emotion” he felt when he first watched the original film: Johnson plays Susie Bannion, an American woman who enrols at a prestigious dance academy in Berlin run by a coven of witches. With a strong supporting cast including Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Elena Fokina, and Chloë Grace Moretz, “Suspiria” is a well-acted and well-crafted film.

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Unlike, Argento’s vivid technicolour version, this “Suspiria” is a bleak, muted film abstract of colour, until it’s necessary. This reinforces the feeling of tension and anxiety that existed during the cold war era, and the film captures the heightened fears of society at the time. By Susie becoming Mother Suspiriorum she offers hope to the next generation and is a reflection on how we can learn from the mistakes of the past. The dance sequences are absolutely memorizing to watch and help reinforce the feeling of unease. Praise must be had to Johnson who trained extensively in the year leading up to filming.

Where to watch:

Amazon: Stream, Rent & Buy

Number 1: The Descent (2005)

Director: Neil Marshall

Not enough people know of Neil Marshall‘s “The Descent” and we think this is a real shame, not only does this film easily pass the Bechdel Test but is genuinely one of the scariest films you’ll ever come across. It was originally planned that the cast of the film would be both male and female, but Neil Marshall’s business partner realised that horror films rarely have all-female casts. This appealed to Marshall who defined all convention, and went ahead to cast all women, and to avoid making them clichéd, he solicited basic advice from his female friends. He explained the difference, “The women discuss how they feel about the situation, which the soldiers in Dog Soldiers would never have done.”

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The film begins with Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid), Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), who along with Sarah’s husband Paul (Oliver Milburn) and their daughter Jessica (Molly Kayll), are returning home from a rafting trip. The five of them are involved in a car accident when Paul is distracted. Paul and Jessica are killed, but Sarah survives. One year later, Sarah, Juno, and Beth are reunited along with their friends Sam (MyAnna Buring), Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), and newcomer Holly (Nora-Jane Noone). The friends travel to Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina for a spelunking adventure.

However, when they venture into the caves and through a narrow passage, it collapses behind them, essentially trapping them. Juno admits that she has led the group into an unknown cave system instead of the fully explored cave system that they had originally planned to visit, and that rescue is, therefore, impossible. Being trapped is the least of their problems, as there is something very deadly living in the caves, and they must work together in order to escape the caves (but will past secrets divide the group further?).

“The Descent” is a true masterclass in claustrophobic horror, and manages to put you into the shoes of the characters in the film, we feel their anxiety and fear. This is one film that is perhaps best enjoyed with the lights left on because it will truly give you nightmares.

Where to watch:

iTunes: Rent & Buy

Amazon: Rent & Buy

Google Play: Rent & Buy

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