DEADLIER THAN THE MALE
If somebody suddenly pointed at you and said; “Quick! Think of a movie villain!”, the chances are that your mind would immediately conjure up the image of a bald scarred man stroking a cat in a swivel chair, whilst pondering his latest eeevil plan (possibly in an lair hidden in a volcano). Or maybe you’re old-school, and the picture of a moustache-twirling dude with a top hat comes to mind.
Obviously with more time to consider it, the infinite number of choices would deliver a more realistic image. But if someone limited that choice to a villain from the horror genre, maybe it would be a hockey-masked slasher, or a finger-knifed dream-demon.
However, continuing our “Women in Horror” theme this month, how about a psychotic slasher-mum, or royalty with blood-thirst and a serious lack of empathy? For your consideration, YGROY presents a selection of our favourite female villains from the world of horror. Sometimes the sources are cross-genre examples, but in each case the lady in question is irredeemably bad and nasty, and at least one person (or rabbit) meets their end at their merciless whim.
Be aware that due to our choices, by the laws of necessity, there are some *major spoilers ahead*
Ladies, take it away … just don’t hurt us!
COUNTESS ELIZABETH NADASDY
Played by Ingrid Pitt in Countess Dracula
In the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, it was the Hammer film studios that produced the most full-blooded horrors for the genre aficionados. It was also famous for its statuesque actresses, leading to the “Hammer Glamour” tag. Amongst the cheesecake though, the studio created some fine female villains. The Polish/British actress Ingrid Pitt was one of the most charismatic. Her seductive version of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla Karnstein” in 1970’s “The Vampire Lovers”, was a career highlight. Here though, we’re concentrating on her villainous role as Nádasdy, otherwise known as “Countess Dracula”. The 1971 film has nothing to do with genuine bloodsuckers, but is a thinly veiled take on the legend of Elizabeth Báthory, the real-life murderess with an alleged taste for bathing in blood. After discovering the skin-rejuvenating qualities of virgin blood (a bit like a mediaeval L’Oreal if you like), she stops at nothing to retain her youth and to get off with a young army Lieutenant. Pitt is never any else than hypnotic as she bounces between youth and old age, stabbing gypsies with hat-pins, prancing around in narcissist rapture at her new beauty, or languidly sponging herself down in blood. The fact that she imprisons her own daughter, steals her identity, and then tries to kill her, is just the icing on the cake. Bereft of any kind of compassion and totally self-absorbed, she is a classic (and literal) full-blooded villain.
Played by Shawnee Smith in the “Saw” movie franchise
Whilst the “Saw” franchise had the character of Jigsaw at its heart (despite the fact he died in part 3), it also had a rich smorgasbord of villainous types in the seven films. Chief among these was Amanda Shaw, as skilfully played by Shawnee Smith. A genre favourite since starring in the hugely underrated remake of “The Blob” in 1988, Smith brought the required multi-layered quality to the character. Don’t think she was that important? Well, she was the only character (apart from Jigsaw himself) to appear in ALL of the “Saw” films. Starting as a victim in part one, being the only person to survive one of Jigsaw’s traps; she seemed to be a minor character. It was during the events of Part Two and Three though, that it was revealed that she was in fact a protégé of Jigsaw and was continuing to build his traps as he became too ill and frail to do so. Like her mentor though she bites the big one in part 3, when evidence points to her being a cold-blooded killer, as oppose to Jigsaw who always prided himself on allowing a slim chance for his victims to live. Amanda returns via flashbacks in the rest of the franchise, where her character is softened somewhat, as her motives and a framing by Hoffman (Jigsaw’s successor) becomes apparent. And whilst Amanda is undoubtedly a killer, the almost touching Father-Daughter relationship between her and Jigsaw is well drawn. Smith also plays her with a strong sense of strength and conviction, which makes her more than a 2-dimensional sidekick. So see Shaw in “Saw”…
Played by Sheri Moon Zombie in the “House of a 1,000 corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects”
Sheri Moon Zombie’s constant appearances in her husband’s genre films are not the simple act of nepotism that you might think. Take her masterful portrayal of “Baby” for example. She’s the most unstable member of the bat-shit crazy “Firefly” family, in both “House of 1000 corpses” and “The Devils Rejects”. First appearing as an “innocent” hitchhiker in “House”, she entraps a group of friends into the Firefly homestead. She then reveals her true colours by throwing childish tantrums, dressing up and singing, stamping her feet in rage, and using insults like “poopy pants”. Worse than that though, is the fact that she’ll scalp and kill you for not knowing her favourite movie star (it’s Bette Davis by the way…). And in “Rejects” she just becomes evil personified. Dropping F-bombs and C-Grenades like no tomorrow, she openly taunts her helpless captives in a motel, and tortures and manipulates them with any sense of mercy or empathy at all. The scene where she offers her buttocks as a target for a gun (there’s no bullets) to a dying woman is disturbing on so many levels. Entirely hateful with no redeeming features, it’s all about her world and her family. Despite this, it is a mesmerising and compelling bit of acting by Mrs Zombie. Her “Bonnie & Clyde” demise is a fitting and iconic end for a character that does not deserve to walk amongst humanity. One “Baby” that even a mother wouldn’t love…
Played by Glenn Close in the “Fatal Attraction”
“Fatal Attraction” is genre? Well, let’s be honest, when it was released in 1987 it was a “yuppie thriller” and a cinema smash-hit. But it also followed the exact same formula as the average “stalk & slash” horror at the time. It was the minimal presence of blood, and the casting choices of Michael Douglas and Glenn Close that made it more “respectable”. It’s Close who really raises the game here and she is magnificent as the “other woman”. It actually earned her an academy award nomination for best actress. Douche-bag husbands everywhere were scared into fidelity, frightened that their one-night stand might turn out to be as neurotic and manipulative as Alex. The scene where she confronts a skittishly macho Douglas, and taunts him to take responsibility (“I’m NOT going be IGNORED Dan!”) is an absolute classic. Alex cements her villainous attributes with acts of voyeurism and vandalism, which escalates into kidnapping, and ultimately attempted murder. And how many modern-day villains have brand-new phrases introduced into the English language, via their evil machinations. I wonder just how many younger cinema fans realise just where the term “Bunny-Boiler “came from? Poor Mr Hoppy! And if the final “jump-shock” climax with a seemingly dead Alex rising from the bath doesn’t make it comparable to genre movies, I don’t know what does! Incidentally the climax was to have been more chilling and nefarious, with Alex committing suicide and framing her nemesis for the crime, which was the departure that Close herself preferred.
Played by Sharon Stone in the “Basic Instinct” movies
What is it with Michael Douglas and murderous femme fatales? Ignoring his life outside cinema, if there was ever a poster-boy for keeping it in your pants and not behaving like a misogynist, then he’s the fellow! Catherine Tramell is one of the most ambiguous, smuggest, manipulative, ice-cold bad girls to ever sashay across the screen. Using her flexible and varied sexuality to fully exploit all situations, she murders (yes, she is the killer) seemingly on whim and just to get ideas for her novels. The graphic murders and blood-letting, the tortuous set-ups and red herrings she puts in place, not to mention her flagrant disregard for everybody around her (“What are you going to do? Arrest me for smoking?”) is all characteristic of a master villain. Although the movie is exploitative in the extreme, and responsible for THAT interrogation scene which spawned countless spoofs and outcries, Stone is just so damned good in the role that she effortlessly acts everybody else off the screen and dominated proceedings, much like her character. The fact that she gets away with it all, and only doesn’t stab her lover at the end because he no longer wants kids (?!!), is the dark icing on the cake. Unfortunately the sequel only dulls the character and is unsuccessful at regaining that elusive evil of Catherine. If only David Cronenberg had directed it as planned… Still, whilst Catherine Trammell sometimes comes across as a horny teenage boy’s dubious fantasy, Stone deserves credit for her efforts in infamy…
Played by Cécile De France in “High Tension” / “Switchblade Romance”
*Major Plot Spoilers ahead!!* If you’ve only watched 80% of Alexandre Aja’s 2003 cult classic (called “High Tension” or “Switchblade Romance” depending where you live), then you’ll be scratching your head and saying; “Villain? That girl’s a bloody hero!”. And so that would be the case … if it wasn’t for the fact that Marie is a psychotically deranged individual! The horrendous killer that murders a whole family and half the cast during the movie is actually a product of Marie’s fractured psyche which snaps during a fateful vacation with her friends parents. In her mind (and the audience’s original viewpoint) Marie, who is played frighteningly well by Cécile De France, witnesses brutal murders and the subsequent kidnapping of her best friend Alex. She endures various tribulations as she follows the killer, and sees good Samaritans slaughtered when they try to help. So why is Alex so scared of Marie then? Because in the final moments we see it was actually Marie disembowelling and decapitating everyone, because she has an unhealthy fixation on Alex and slays anybody who gets in the way of being with her. Ultimately it is only Alex’s declaration of love, swiftly followed by a crowbar to the chest, which stops her bloody rampage. Despite her relatively slight form, and the visual cheating that goes on to confound the viewer, De France cuts a frightening image in the latter moments of the film, juxtaposing with the early depiction of her as a heroic bystander. But can a mentally deranged person be truly classed as a villain. Ask the driver with a saw in his guts…
Played by Eihi Shiina in “Audition”
One of THE most unnerving portraits of feminine evil captured on film, and one of the best J-Horrors to boot, Takashi Miike’s warped 1999 movie is something of a cult. It starts almost like a genial comedy-of-manners, with lonely widower urged to find a partner by his teenage son and film producer friend. As he meets Asami he is captivated by her, although the audience is drip-fed worrying images about her (the wriggling sack in her bedroom). Eihi Shiina chills the spine as she portrays Asami as damaged young woman, who can’t bear having suitors love anyone apart from her. In a horribly protracted sequence she paralyses the poor protagonist, and sets to work on him. She tortures him with massive acupuncture needles in the stomach and face, all the while chanting “deeper” in a child-like mantra. She then proceeds to cut off his feet with razor-sharp wire, and threatens to kill his son to eradicate their unconditional love. It’s the immature glee with which Asami performs this unflinching ritual, which makes it so disturbing and unforgettable. It really comes as a release for the viewer when events eventually conspire against her and puts her out of our misery. The contrast between the initial sweetness of Shiina’s performance and her later reprehensible acts really makes Asami a villain you can’t forget.
Played by Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”
*Major Spoiler Again*… *No! Really I mean it!* If you haven’t seen the fine David Fincher film yet, or read the book, skip over this entry. Still here? Amy’s a piece of work isn’t she!? This slips slightly into genre territory, mainly due to the graphic demise of poor old Neil Patrick Harris and the mature themes. Masterfully played by Rosamund Pike, the role has earned her many awards and an academy nomination for best actress. “Amazing” Amy is a privileged woman with entitlement issues. Okay, her husband is a bit of a two-faced douche-bag who’s porking the girl out of the “blurred lines” music video, but divorce or straight-forward murder would have been preferable to the tortuous master-plan she puts him through. Writing false diary entries, stashing bogus gifts, almost bleeding herself dry for the crime-scene, all to ensure hubby is hated and jailed for a killing that didn’t happen. And once her plan is complicated by some low-life thieves (hah!) and some fine PR work by her other half, she doesn’t hesitate to manipulate the events again. She sexually “assaults” herself with a bottle and messily slaughters her lovelorn patsy mid-coitus. This is all to negotiate a “happy ending” for “Amazing Amy” and a marriage that her stymied husband can never extract himself from. She’s a cold and narcissistic villain
Played by Kathy Bates in the movie “Misery”
It’s extremely wrong to assume that all female uber-villains rely on seduction and male frailties to accomplish their evil-doings. Some just make use of circumstance and good/bad luck. Take Annie Wilkes for example, who calls herself “the number one fan” of writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan). Kathy Bates won the 1990 Best Actress Oscar for the role of Annie, and was responsible for a scene called “one of the scariest movie moments of all time” (bet you can guess which one). When Sheldon is delivered into her hands, injured and helpless, she doesn’t hesitate to capitalise on her luck. Bouncing between inhuman rages, and yokel sweetness, Annie bullies Sheldon into rewriting his latest opus, and foresees a future where he will be a captive companion for her. It’s the multi-layered levels of the character that really works. At times she’s a misfit loner with self-confidence issues, which parallels the monumental temper and threats of violence. She kills one would-be rescuer, second-guesses and outthinks the stranded author, and promises a murder suicide. Worst by far though, is the “hobbling” scene. It’s a film moment that still can’t be seen without withdrawing into your seat and squinting. It’s made even more horrible by the “I love you” statement prior to the sledgehammer connecting with the shackled feet. Still regarded as a benchmark for great genre villains to this day,
Played by Betsy Palmer (in the original “Friday the 13th”
Literally the “Mother” of all slasher villains! And the most popular horror film Pub-Quiz answer as well! In fact it costs Drew Barrymore her life in the opening scene of the first “Scream” film, and established the “meta” rules for the franchise. Any horror fan worth their salt will know that the mysterious psycho-killer in the original 1980 slasher classic was NOT Jason, it was his mother Pamela Voorhees. Jason rose from the depths of Crystal Lake and massacred all sex-mad teenagers only from Part 2 onwards. In suspense and narrative terms, the character of Mrs Voorhees is a huge cheat! She’s the personification of the mystery character who appears at the end of a crime novel to confess to murder, despite nobody ever seeing her or mentioning her before. Betsy Palmer appears at the climax of “Friday” blandly introducing herself to Adrienne King, before info-dumping her (and Jason’s) history and trying to kill her. It’s not even Palmer in the decapitation scene (check the hairy knuckles!) And yet she made such an impact, that her presence was felt throughout the franchise. The whispered “ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma” that is on every “Friday” soundtrack, is based on her “Kill her Mommy” rant. Palmer herself was such a respected and wholesome actress, well known for game shows and suchlike that her frenzied performance caused shock and delight to the US audiences. Popping up to cameo in Part 2, the role has clung to her and she learned to embrace it, appearing in several documentaries and special. The character should be celebrated, if only for the uniqueness and importance.
Played by Amber Heard in “All the boys love Mandy Lane”
*Spoilers Again. Sorry* “Mandy Lane” never really got the attention it deserved. Despite its all-American trappings, due to distribution wrangles it actually got shown in the UK years before it finally made it to the US. One of the earliest leading roles for Heard, she gives a lovely performance as Mandy, apparently a sweet outsider who gradually becomes accepted into the upper clique at High School. As a group of the youngsters’ party at a cattle ranch, it turns into something of a “meta” slasher or very mean-spirited version of “Scream”, as the stereotypes are played with and especially Mandy herself. She’s the Puppet-Master here, in cahoots with the “killer” and pointing him at her victims, resulting in a master plan where she walks away scot-free. It says a lot for Heard, that the character remains so compelling both in her innocent and villainous personas, even when cold-heartedly stabbing a female friend in the chest. It’s such a layered slasher film, and such a good central character, that it’s a shame it’s not been seemingly recognised as such. But on this occasion, “the boys” are very much right…
Played by Felissa Rose in “Sleepaway Camp”
*Spoilers … but I’ll be subtle about the main one* It’s surprising that many of today’s younger horror fans don’t seem to be aware of the original “Sleepaway Camp”. Although many people wrote off the 1983 slasher flick at the time, as just being another quick cash-in on the “Friday the 13th” phenomena, it actually became a cult flick, garnering belated sequels and reboots. It is an unashamed exploitation movie, with some rather uncomfortable and dubious moments mostly based around some typical 80’s views on sexuality. Other than that it’s a simple maniac-on-the-loose-in-a-summer-camp horror, albeit with some decent scenes of bloody mayhem. So why the “special honorary” tag? Well, the killer is actually the last person you would expect. A teenage Felissa Rose (who became something of genre icon afterwards) plays Angela beautifully as a misunderstood and introverted young girl. Desperate to be accepted and find relationships outside of her strict upbringing, she seems to be the focal point of the murders, but red herrings point in other directions. In a truly shocking climax (even today), Angela is revealed as being a feral psycho, responsible for all the slaughter. And not only that, but … well, let’s just say that her inclusion in this article is something of a stretch.