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Underrated Female-Centric Horror Films to Watch for Women’s History Month

Underrated Female-Centric Horror Films to Watch for Women’s History Month

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Horror is the perfect genre for stories of girlhood, motherhood, and all the inherently bloody business of being a woman. Celebrate this month with the classics like Carrie and Rosemary’s Baby, along with modern feminist favorites like Jennifer’s Body, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and The Witch. But be sure to also add these criminally underrated gems to your watch list. 

Harrowing Transformations

Starry Eyes (2014)

When I think “female-led horror film,” Starry Eyes is what immediately comes to mind. Sarah Walker (Alexandra Essoe) is an aspiring actress living in Los Angeles who just can’t catch a break. She’s passionate about her profession, but her group of friends (some more like frenemies) are unsupportive. Sarah lands an audition for a horror film. The casting directors are dismissive, and she retreats to the bathroom to compulsively pull her out. The creepy casting woman seems to like this self-punishment and gives her another shot. The road to stardom isn’t what Sarah expected, and she ends up going through hell to become a leading lady.

The film is a fresh take on the “struggling actress” trope. I’ve watched this film with a few people and noticed that women have a different reaction to body horror and Sarah’s complicated female relationships, which I find interesting. I think it’s one of those deeply feminine depictions of horror in the vein of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession.   

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video (via AMC+)

Saint Maud (2019)

British filmmaker Rose Glass made her feature directorial debut with a tale about a young hospice nurse, Maud (Morfydd Clark), a recent and devout Catholic convert. She begins caring for a terminally ill patient, Amanda Köhl (Jennifer Ehle), and quickly becomes protective of her. Maud feels that God moves through her and believes that she is the only one who can save Amanda’s soul. Her relationships with a higher power and her atheist patient get warped in her mind, and her “holy mission” becomes more of a disturbing obsession.

Saint Maud is a completely original and surreal horror film with an award-worthy performance by Clark. Similar to Midnight Mass, it looks at Catholicism in a way that doesn’t mock the religion but explores the consequences of fanaticism. 

Where to watch: Hulu

The Goriness of Girlhood

The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

At a young age, Francisca (Olivia Bond) learns about anatomy and dissection from her mother (Diana Agostini), a former surgeon from Portugal. When Charlie (Will Brill), a murderer under the guise of a salesman, brutally murders her mother, he’s chained in the barn by her father (Paul Nazak). She vows to take care of her new (and only) friend. This is just the beginning.

The rest of the film follows an adult Francisca (Kika Magalhães) and her unhealthy fascination with death, living a lonely existence on the farm with the “preserved” body of her deceased father and her captive/friend. It’s an extremely dark take on a coming-of-age story, to say the least.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video  

Raw (2016)

Julia Ducournau’s French coming-of-age horror film is not for the faint of heart. Justine (Garance Marillier) begins her first year of veterinary school. As a vegetarian, Justine is horrified when part of the freshman hazing ritual involves eating meat. Her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), who also attends the school, pressures her into going along with it. She develops a mysterious rash and starts having unusual cravings for a different kind of meat. 

On the surface, this beautifully made film is about a young woman’s suppressed cannibalism, but what Ducournau really explores is female sexuality, among other things. There’s also the authentic sibling relationship between the two sisters, filled with aggression, rivalry, and love, smacking each other one minute and hugging the next. It’s one of the best modern horror films, with stunning visuals and an addictive score. 

Where to watch: Netflix

Love and Madness

In Fabric (2018)

This British Giallo-inspired horror-comedy stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Sheila Woolchapel, a lonely divorcee trying to get back on the dating scene. In preparation for a date, she goes shopping at popular department store Dentley and Soper’s, where an odd sales-clerk Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) pushes her to a flowy red dress. Speaking only in strange and frustrating poetic riddles, the clerk convinces Sheila to treat herself and buy the dress even though it’s out of her comfort zone. The catch — it’s cursed.

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I’ll admit that the first half of the film is significantly better than the latter since it goes from Sheila to a couple preparing for their wedding. The dress brings them both nothing but suffering. If you’re a fan of eerie synth music, dark British humor, and clothes with a mind of their own, then In Fabric is for you. 

Where to watch: Hulu

Darling (2015)

Fans of Roman Polanksi’s Repulsion will likely enjoy Darling, a psychological horror about a girl who is driven to insanity in a haunted house in New York. The titular character (Lauren Ashley Carter) becomes its caretaker and quickly begins hearing strange noises and hallucinating. When Madame (Sean Young) hires her, she says that the previous caretaker killed herself. Oh, and it’s rumored that the house was once home to devil worshipers.

It’s a simple premise with a short runtime, but effective, nonetheless. Carter gives such a great performance as a woman losing her mind in an empty house, you’ll start to question what’s real and what’s not.  

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video (via AMC+)

The Love Witch (2016)

Elaine Parks (Samantha Robinson) is a young witch and recent widow looking for love in an oceanside town in California. To help the process along, she uses potions and spells to entrance men who become so obsessed with her that it’s unappealing. Elaine goes through a few suitors, never completely satisfied.

Anna Biller’s horror-comedy is as hilarious as it is sincere about gender politics. The intense colors are like a 1960s dollhouse, though the actual time period is left undefined. There’s not much to the plot other than a beautiful sorceress killing her lovers, but the dazzling visuals and overall playfulness more than make up for it.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video (via IMDbTV)

Visions and Apparitions

Doctor Sleep (2019)

Yes, this is an odd choice but hear me out. The film, based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name and a sequel to the novel/film The Shining, follows Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) as he struggles to suppress his “shine” and deal with the trauma he experienced at the Overlook Hotel as a child. He learns about a boy’s murder from Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl with an even stronger shine. The two work together to take down Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her band of fellow psychic vampires who survive off of the psychic essence of shining children. Abra and Rose are incredible in their own ways, but when they come head-to-head, it’s truly enjoyable to watch.

We love a gorgeous villain, and Ferguson is unbelievably sexy, portraying Rose as maternal and seductive at the same time. Curran is clearly a star on the rise, and seeing a young Black girl as a powerful hero in a horror film no less is something I want to continue to see. Mike Flanagan even talked about an Abra spinoff, which I wholeheartedly want to happen. 

Where to watch: HBO Max

Last Night in Soho (2021)

Aspiring fashion designer, Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), leaves her rural English home to attend London College of Fashion. She rents a room in an old, but charmingly vintage, building in Soho, and as a lover of 1960s style and music, it’s a perfect fit. At night she has vivid dreams of a beautiful blonde named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), an ambitious young woman determined to become a singer in the 60s Soho nightclub scene. The dreams are glitzy and fun at first, but soon Eloise finds herself trying to save Sandie from being exploited by the men around her. Men, both living and dead, haunt Eloise in her waking life, as they did Sandie.

This film is one of the most stylish psychological horrors I’ve ever seen, and as much as I love Edgar Wright, I never expected him to make a feminist classic. I’ll watch anything with modern-day horror icon Anya Taylor-Joy, star of other must-sees like The Witch, Split, and Thoroughbreds. She and McKenzie are captivating, as is the connection between their characters. The music, wardrobe, setting, and acting are all stunning, but it’s also a truly terrifying experience.  

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

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