In the lead-up to Halloween, Dazed Digital is running a Dark Arts season inspired by our November Dark Arts issue. Among other things, we've walked the path of darkness via the Hollywood Walk of Death and talked to Don Mancini, the creator of Chucky. Check back on our Dark Arts section for a journey to hell and back.
Women in horror movies are rarely, if ever, treated well, with most becoming prey for all manner of supernatural creatures and psychotic maniacs. Some do get out alive (the Final Girl trope exists for a reason), but the vast majority of horror films employ female characters as a way to inject some titillating nudity as well as ramp up the body count – often in the same scene.
Sometimes, however, there's a good horror film built around women, which either upturns the clichés or takes them in new, twisted directions – and with Halloween on the way now seems as good a time as any to investigate.
Trouble Every Day (2001)
Claire Denis isn't a director known for genre films, but Trouble Every Day proves that she could have an extraordinary career making horror movies if she wanted to. The film follows a honeymooning couple in Paris and a mysterious woman whose husband keeps her locked away whose paths cross with horrifying consequences. Denis's lyrical style and her complex approach to sexuality make Trouble Every Day an essential modern horror film, as well as a unique take on vampire mythology.
Zoe Lund stars as Thana, a mute seamstress in New York raped twice in one night who takes revenge on the men of the city with nothing but a pistol and a seductive wardrobe in Abel Ferrara's Ms.45. Shocking, violent and nasty, Ms.45 is one of Ferrara's most interesting films, boasting one of the great anti-heroes in Thana and a jaw-dropping slow-mo finale seemingly in homage to The Wild Bunch.
The majority of Takashi Miike's pseudo meet-cute Audition wouldn't be out of place in a rom-com: a lonely widower is persuaded by his son to find a new wife, and after his film producer friend sets up a casting session to audition possible suitors he finds one, Asami, but she isn't all she seems. As thematically rich as it is fascinating to watch unfold, Audition is possibly Miike's masterpiece, as well as the nastiest rom-com ever made.
Perfect Blue (1997)
Anime master Satoshi Kon made his feature debut in 1997 with Perfect Blue, a psychological thriller about a J-pop singer turned actress torn between the innocence of her pop career and the sexually provocative persona demanded of her in her acting. Drawing on the dangers of female idolatry and the sexualisation of women in the public eye, Kon creates a nightmarish vision of fame with Perfect Blue that also functions as an intense study of a woman trying to function in a male dominated industry.
Roman Polanski set the precedent for psychological thrillers with a string of great movies in the 1960s, and the best of these is Repulsion, starring Catherine Deneuve as a Belgian manicurist in London whose fear of men pushes her to breaking point when her protective sister goes away for the weekend. Featuring vivid dream sequences and a career best performance from Deneuve, Repulsion is a striking horror film from one of Europe's finest filmmakers.
It's no secret that Brian De Palma is a huge Alfred Hitchcock fan, and Sisters, about a model trying to clear her name after being accused of a mysterious and grisly murder, is probably his greatest homage to the master of suspense. De Palma's operatic and atmospheric visual style, one of the great scores from legendary composer Bernard Herrmann and a sensational dual performance from Margot Kidder all help to make Sisters a truly unnerving and unforgettable cinematic experience.
Dario Argento's vividly stylised giallo movie follows an American dancer as she enrols in a prestigious German dance school, only to find it's run by witches. Argento's technical flourishes are always a wonder to behold and Suspiria, with its bold, lurid colours, a spectacular score by prog-rock band Goblin and a bizarre mystery at the heart of it all, is one of his, and Italian cinema's, most thrilling works.
Eyes Without A Face (1960)
Based on a novel by Jean Redon and adapted for the screen by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who wrote the book Hitchcock's Vertigo was based on, Georges Franju's Eyes Without A Face is a psychological horror movie about a scientist who, after disfiguring his daughter in a car accident becomes obsessed with restoring her looks by stealing the faces of other women. Disturbing and stylish, Eyes Without A Face is Frankenstein as a beauty myth, and it's definitely not for the faint hearted.
Inland Empire (2006)
David Lynch's movies are always scary in their own bizarre way, but none are quite as creepy as Inland Empire, a digital nightmare about an actress whose life starts to echo the plot of the film she's starring in. Its low grade visuals, excruciating run time and seemingly random bursts of surrealism suggest this is Lynch on typically opaque form, but, no matter how alienating things get, you'll be more than prepared to follow him down his rabbit hole.
Black Sunday (1960)
Initially banned in the UK, Black Sunday, the debut feature of horror master Mario Bava, tells the story of a resurrected witch seeking revenge on those who sentenced her to death her 200 years ago. Black Sunday is widely considered to be a huge influence on modern horror, with its gothic visuals and graphic violence, but what really stands out is Barbara Steele, playing the witch, whose pale, wide eyed face is one of the most iconic in cinema.
This feature is the second part of a series examining tropes in horror movies. For the first part, on body horror, click here.
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