Frightening flicks involving feminine fears
October 2, 2006 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Frightening flicks involving feminine fears? (This is a good question for gender studies, psych, and cinema studies majors!)

I'm interested in seeing movies that deal with the dark side of the female psychology, or scary psychological issues that are more feminine than masculine.

For example, "Rosemary's Baby" did a great job exploring the feminine fear that the baby you are carrying could be evil/foreign. Also the whole vulnerability thing, without being too misogynistic.

The films don't necessarily need to be the standard exploitative "sex is bad" horror flick (see someone else's previous question) but rather, movies that tap into primal fears related to women.

I'm interested in the fear of abandonment, jealousy, psychological issues with penetration, etc. Primal fears that perhaps lead to primal action. (Obviously many of these fears aren't purely feminine.)

I'm also interested in movies that explore themes of men being afraid of something inherent to women, such as a vagina dentata theme or perhaps something involving the maternal instinct gone wrong. If you can't think of any movies, feel free to suggest some possible fears. Somewhat loaded question, I realize, but I'm just brainstorming.

Please keep in mind I'm interested in movies that are able to do this without being overtly misogynistic, but rather tap into subconscious fears that run deep in some people. I suspect this probably is done with class more often in foreign films. Please help!
posted by np312 to Society & Culture (55 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Gingersnaps is a great horror film from 2000 about h two teenaged goth sisters who've made a pact to commit suicide before menstruation kicks in. Their plans go awry when the older sister is bitten by a werewolf and their griping about the 'monthly curse' take on a whole new meaning. It's a fun, sharp, film about puberty, and much better than any of the films about teenaged wereboys.
posted by hot soup girl at 8:51 AM on October 2, 2006

posted by Rash at 8:52 AM on October 2, 2006

Some have commented that David Lynch's oeuvre seems mostly about fear of women and the psychological and sexual powers they hold over (straight) men.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:54 AM on October 2, 2006

Roman Polanski's Repulsion may not be exactly what you're looking for, but would at least be worth taking a look at.
posted by jrb223 at 8:57 AM on October 2, 2006

There is penetration left and right in The Descent, which is predicated on six women spelunking into a (creepy) unexplored cave.
posted by The Michael The at 8:57 AM on October 2, 2006

I was going to say Repulsion, but jrb223 beat me to it.

Carrie? Or is that a sex-is-bad horror flick?
posted by bcwinters at 9:00 AM on October 2, 2006

Yeah, definitely The Descent. The best "feminist" horror film I've seen in a while.

Of course, you could argue that most horror movies deal with this subject in some form or another. Some specific examples of "fear of female sexuality" off the top of my head:

Rabid (pretty much any early Cronenberg, for that matter)
Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct, for your Michael Douglas double-feature
posted by mkultra at 9:05 AM on October 2, 2006

I thought the Marky Mark vehicle Fear (heh) was quite scary, and so did my wife. I think it's the "outsiders invading the home/nest to get at the kids" thing that really does it.

posted by Rock Steady at 9:07 AM on October 2, 2006

Are the issues in Single White Female what you're getting at?
posted by patricio at 9:08 AM on October 2, 2006

Everything Put Together as a companion to Rosemary's Baby.

Dead Ringers for more explicitly - and literally - gynecological horror. Cronenberg's Rabid and Shivers could also fit this bill.

The Descent is an Alien-style horror movie - and a very well-made one - with an all-female cast and social dynamic. The villain of the piece, in particular, keys into many of those abandonment and jealousy issues. Worth a peer.

The Alien movies are interestingly knotted as a Freudian bloodbath, with plenty of demented birth imagery, as I'm sure you already know. And a classic heroine! And a bizarre reverse birth at the end of the bizarre last film.

And that last film reminds me of Joss Whedon, who wrote it, although he despises the final product, and he, of course, created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, whose series run ran the gamut of issues. Of course, that's not a movie, and some would say that even the original Buffy movie isn't really much of a movie itself.

American Psycho as a horror film with an alpha male Freddy Krueger.

Speaking of alpha males, there's always In The Company of Men, and outside of alpha males, there's always The Shape of Things. Not horror films, but Neil LaBute's imagination is disturbing nonetheless.

Dead Alive aka Braindead is a film dealing with, among other things, a vile, overbearing mother.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:09 AM on October 2, 2006

Also: May.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:11 AM on October 2, 2006

Cat People, the original, about a woman's fears that her sexual desires will turn her into a murderous animal.

It's not really a horror film, but Gaslight is a thriller in which a man attempts to torment his wife into madness just by hioding paintings and moving objects and then accusing her of doing it. It's actually a sort of brilliant satire of Victorian propriety, where an untidy house represents an untidy mind.

The Bad Seed has almost exclusively female protagonists, and is about a mother's fear that she may be the carrier of a genetic evil that has produced a beastly child.

Anybody mention May yet?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:11 AM on October 2, 2006

Not exactly on topic, and I can't find an exact reference, but I read a great article some years ago about the way female protagonists were masculinized in horror movies. It's not SO true anymore since the whole Scream meta-horror thing started, but for the "Golden Age" horror films (Nightmare, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc.) they are almost strangely consistent. The female protagonists are given male or unisex names, they are not promiscuous (until Scream they NEVER had sex), etc.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:14 AM on October 2, 2006

David Cronenberg has a real gift for making vaginas scary. Fears of giving birth to freakishness and of generally flawed female anatomy crop up a lot. I found the original Dark Water hit some very primal buttons about motherhood, as well.
posted by melissa may at 9:17 AM on October 2, 2006

Jane Campion is a wonderful student of the pathological landscape of female emotions and fear. The Piano chronicles a woman's need for and self-denial of communication, as well as her sexual awakening, etc etc. Another one of her movies, Angel At My Table captures a young girl's fears of growing up and her harrowing experience as an adult in a pychiatric ward 8 years later. Campion studied as a social antholopologist and was heavily influenced by Levi-Strauss, and her heroines are incredibly psychologically nuanced. She's like the anti-Felleni.

I'm not sure if The Piano is necessarily scary, though I do remember women rushing out of the theater at the incredibly intense climax. Not for the weak of stomach.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:19 AM on October 2, 2006

The above is in reference to Rock Steady's post, btw.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:21 AM on October 2, 2006

have you ever watched a single episode of roseanne? or, if you actually work for your money, sex and the city?
posted by krautland at 9:22 AM on October 2, 2006

Seconding mkultra and Sticherbeast on Cronenberg, but particularly The Brood. Like melissa may said, now that I followed the links.
posted by jessenoonan at 9:27 AM on October 2, 2006

Can't leave out The Ring - the woman's actions (incl. some morally questionable ones) are motivated by a threat to her child. Not that this is unique to women, natch, but still...
posted by Mister_A at 9:34 AM on October 2, 2006

There's the story arc in Lost where The Others kidnap (and vaccinate?) pregnant Claire, and later attempt to kidnap her son.
posted by heatherann at 9:35 AM on October 2, 2006

The original Stepford Wives - the one with Katharine Ross, not the 'jokey' Nicole Kidman version. I think this is a classic must see for any modern feminist.
posted by eatdonuts at 9:37 AM on October 2, 2006

In Don't Look Now Julie Christie believes she is catching glimpses of her dead child halfway around the world from where she died. The film is very evocative on a moody sort of level. What would it be like to lose a child, move to Venice for your husband's job, then try to settle into your new life?
posted by scarabic at 9:38 AM on October 2, 2006

Can't leave out The Ring

Yes! My fiancee went on at length once about the feminine symbolism in that movie- abandonment by your mother, the horse, the well. Even the VCR itself is sort of a vagina dentata (c.f. Videodrome, another Cronenberg classic).

Men, Women, and Chainsaws is a good book, but don't let its title fool you- it's very academic, and fairly dry.
posted by mkultra at 9:44 AM on October 2, 2006

I would be interested in seeing a comparison/contrast of similar horror/suspense/paranoia motifs as done with opposite gender protagonists. (ie: 1993's Body Snatchers with Gabrielle Anwar vs. either of the prior versions, or the Astronaut's Wife vs. umm, I'm not sure what.)

On preview: you could compare Don't Look Now with The Changeling.

Unrelated to the above (unless someone knows of a gender-reversed variation): Wait Until Dark.

(PS: yeah, I know the concept of 'gender' as a binary opposition is bogus)
posted by kimota at 9:50 AM on October 2, 2006

The Ring 2 (The American version) can be seen either as a horror story following on from The Ring 1, or as a story of a woman subjecting her child to some pretty creepy abuse by projecting her own fears onto him.
posted by essexjan at 9:51 AM on October 2, 2006

Kiss the girls.
posted by radioamy at 9:58 AM on October 2, 2006

Requiem for a Dream - what a woman will do to get her next fix. Maybe this is more horrifying for parents, though.
posted by indigo4963 at 10:01 AM on October 2, 2006

In Don't Look Now Julie Christie believes she is catching glimpses of her dead child halfway around the world from where she died. The film is very evocative on a moody sort of level.

I think I would agree that Don't Look Now plays on fears about the feminine, but I'm not sure they're Julie Christie's so much as Donald Sutherland's; I think he's a much bigger force in the film. But his interactions with the female characters are almost all freaky in ways that certainly do fit the criteria you're looking for.

Though I would not classify it as "very evocative on a moody sort of level" as much as "scary as all hell." I've seen it a couple times and have been unable to sleep for days each time.
posted by occhiblu at 10:02 AM on October 2, 2006

Species II is a terrible, execrable movie.

But it does feature, relevant to your question, women whose uteruses explode as their abdomens peel open like an orange and the full-grown kids saunter out.

Also there are various issues-laden monsters.

This is also the movie in which Our Heroes kill the monster by using the inherent inferiority of a black man's blood to make it explode in a rage of genetic purity. Truly a big steaming turd of a film.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:21 AM on October 2, 2006

Heavenly Creatures
posted by candyland at 10:23 AM on October 2, 2006

(I am disappointed this isn't the question I misread it as: Frightening flicks involving feminine bears?)

Not imho a very good movie, but Species is filled with this stuff - they basically need to catch her before she succeeds in mating and giving birth to her killer alien progeny.
posted by joannemerriam at 10:27 AM on October 2, 2006

The Others deals with the protection/fear of harm of your children.
posted by Not in my backyard at 10:38 AM on October 2, 2006

Peeping Tom (1960) might fit the bill. While the focus of the film is on the main (male) character who films women as he kills them, it touches on a lot of issues relating to voyeurism, how males look at females, and the general process of desiring then being made uncomfortable by attention. I don't want to give anything away, but the "twist" at the end throws these issues into even sharper focus.

I second (?) The Piano; very intense, but a really incredible study of a woman's sexual and emotional awakening. It's a drop-dead gorgeous film, as well.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 10:41 AM on October 2, 2006


That's the author all right. The phrase "Final Girl" is exactly what she called the main character. When I read it (back in the mid-90s) it was more essay-length than book length, but maybe it was just an excerpt.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:53 AM on October 2, 2006

Also: The Haunting. Based on a noverl by Shirley Jackson, the movie looks at the experiences of spending a night in a haunted house through the fragmenting psyche of a young woman (Julie Harris) whose crack-up might be caused by the house's spirits, or might be the cause of them.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:59 AM on October 2, 2006

There have been several movies lately which revolve around a mother's fear of her child disappearing and receiving no help from disbelieving authorities to find him/her. I'm thinking in particular of Flight Plan (a movie my friends and I dubbed Panic Plane) and The Forgotten.
posted by junkbox at 11:05 AM on October 2, 2006

This is a really interesting question, dealing as it does with women's fears rather than fear of women (I would argue that Cronenberg fits into the latter category).

Alien Resurrection is the first one that comes to mind; it's all about giving birth and being forced to kill one's deformed offspring. I could go on and on, but I'll spare you.

Frankenstein is of course the classic of this genre... but you need to go to the novel, not the movie version, really.

The most perfect articulation of women's fears I know of if Alice Sheldon's short story The Screwfly Solution, which I have linked on Mefi a few times already, but again, it's literature and not film... a movie which explores women's psychological and social fears needs by definition to have a female subject and a female point of view, so I would suggest that any movie noted above which actually has a male point of view is going to be about the fear/hatred of women and women's bodies rather than women's own fears. Not that women can't be afraid of their own bodies: I think the movie you might really be looking for is Fat Girl.
posted by jokeefe at 11:11 AM on October 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, and let's not forget the entire genre of the vampire film, which more or less, for better or worse, explores the wish to be devoured by the beloved, as well as the fear of sex. All that blood, and stuff.
posted by jokeefe at 11:14 AM on October 2, 2006

I can't believe no one mentioned Sleepaway Camp.

BTW, a lot of the answers here really stretch credulity w/r/t the actual question. Don't Look Now? Wait Until Dark? Requiem For A Dream?
posted by mkultra at 11:15 AM on October 2, 2006

For all the girls who ever babysat, the scariest movie was When a Stranger Calls. I never saw it (it was scary enough to be in a strange house at night at the age of 13) but I knew about the "Have you checked the children" and "The call is coming from inside the house!" lines. Of course, for those who didn't get enough from the first one, they could watch When a Stranger Calls Back.
posted by witchstone at 11:16 AM on October 2, 2006

> Don't Look Now?

I think it depends on how far you want to delve into what constitutes "movies that tap into primal fears related to women." It's Venice, so there's all the water, which is generally widely considered symbolically feminine. There's the whole sense that the actual physical place they're in is driving them insane, which seems to go back to things like The Yellow Wallpaper. There's the weird sisters, with all the Shakespearean implications of witches; the conflict between them and Sutherland's character basically puts his wife in a position of choosing feminine powers and consorts or of choosing to stay within the masculine realm of her husband (which is actually getting increasingly feminized). The main plotline of the film depends on the illusion of the innocence of young girls; the main scene of conflict requires that the man act like a mother, almost, rather than like a warrior, though his "feminization" is not a bad thing.

I would have to agree with jokeefe that it's not told from a woman's point of view and not exactly made up of the fears that women have so much as fears about women, but even with that it explores those in fairly non-misogynist ways, I think.
posted by occhiblu at 11:37 AM on October 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Slumber Party Massacre was written by Rita Mae Brown, but I defy you to find a feminist viewpoint in it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:41 AM on October 2, 2006

Maybe not an exact match, but so many feminine issues that I couldn't pass up:Une affaire de femme [Story of Women] (1998)
A poor woman in occupied France creates a home abortion clinic to feed her family while turning to prostitution as a way to get back at her abusive husband. Needless to say, these two practices were looked down upon by the Nazis.
Hilarity tragedy ensues.

posted by themadjuggler at 11:49 AM on October 2, 2006

I'm afraid my suggestions center on male points of view about femininity or female sexuality, but such is the state of film history, I'm afraid:

You might want to check out Picnic at Hanging Rock, although it's more in the "society's fear of budding female sexuality" vein. Creepy, though.

Misery might be of interest in terms of the power exchange (the villainess goes from being the simpering, abject fan to having all the power over the big male superstar).
posted by hilatron at 11:54 AM on October 2, 2006

I'm also interested in movies that explore themes of men being afraid of something inherent to women, such as a vagina dentata theme or perhaps something involving the maternal instinct gone wrong.

The Wall
posted by annaramma at 12:40 PM on October 2, 2006

How about fears related to beauty and appearance? Eyes Without a Face is absolutely nightmarish. It's also got a bunch of father/daughter anxiety!
posted by mr_roboto at 12:47 PM on October 2, 2006

Sorry if some of these are too generic:

The Devil's Advocate has abandonment and fertility issues (with ovary/evil baby connotations to boot). Probably the most interesting of the bunch from an analysis perspective.

The River Wild deals with protection of children.

Friday The Thirteenth was really a revenge flick about a mom angry towards the treatment of her son - maternal instinct gone wrong?

Dawn of the Dead (2004) has pregnancy-gone zombie.
posted by Vantech at 12:59 PM on October 2, 2006

There are lots of films that deal with women's and girls' cruelty to other women and girls. That seems to be a whole genre that doesn't have to do with sex or kids, but that deals with female insecurity and the totally vicious behavior that can come from trying to get secure. Teen movies are coming to mind right now: Welcome to the Dollhouse (which I haven't seen, but I understand it's about this); Mean Girls (a bit of a lame example, not really dark enough, but headed in the right direction); there are millions but not a lot coming to mind right now...
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:00 PM on October 2, 2006

There are several films based on the fear that your husband/partner is not what you think/he says he is. Deceived, Monsieur Verdoux and A Perfect Murder are three that spring to mind but I bet there are many more.
posted by TheRaven at 4:16 PM on October 2, 2006

Following on what TheRaven posted: the classic film in this genre would be Rebecca (did your new husband murder his wife?). And I've been trying to remember more teen genre movies that address the whole "fear of being outcast in high school" theme as well (the best I can come up with is Carrie). I suppose there are two kinds of movies here: those that deal with metaphorical fears, such as Rosemary's Baby, which is the most exquisite dismantling of what it is like to be trapped in an abusive marriage evah, and those that are more literal, such as Vera Drake.
posted by jokeefe at 5:44 PM on October 2, 2006

Also, just throwing this out here: what was that recent Nicole Kidman movie where she moves into a haunted house (in itself a richly feminine metaphor, i.e. anything that threatens the safety of the house constitutes a primal fear; but so is the idea that the house itself is dangerous, as it's also a trap) and the children are possessed? I would also suggest that Poltergeist fits in here in a big way-- the fear of your children being snatched away, possessed, or embodying evil...

Has The Yellow Wallpaper been mentioned yet?
posted by jokeefe at 5:54 PM on October 2, 2006

Oh, and above, re: Rosemary's Baby: I meant dealt with fears metaphorically, not "metaphorical fears." D'oh.
posted by jokeefe at 5:58 PM on October 2, 2006

Triggered by this thread, I just rented The Woods, from the director of May.

It's...worth discussion. Dealing with feminine evil and masculine solutions. Peculiar.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:47 PM on October 2, 2006

Alison McLean's short film Kitchen Sink (1989). [1], [2], [3].
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:57 PM on October 3, 2006

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