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Wendy Torrance, The Shining, 1980 (Stanley Kubrick)

Charting cult horror’s iconic heroines

In response to Altuzarra's sinister undone romance and its 'Rosemary's Baby' soundtrack, we chart ten of horror's iconic women

Ominously soundtracked by Mia Farrow’s chilling lullaby from Rosemary’s Baby, Altuzarra’s SS15 collection declared itself focused on “the idea of a sinister and undone prettiness and romance.” While horror is not a genre renowned for its celebration of women, the collection explored the haunting and perverse interaction between the innocently proper (gingham skirtsuits and floral fabrics) and fetishistic seduction (hurriedly buttoned shirts, high-cut slits and latticed leather) that we often find in a cult classic female. In honour of the show, we look at our top ten women in horror who match the Altuzarra collection to a tee.

Rosemary Woodhouse, Rosemary’s Baby, 1968 (Roman Polanski)

The devotedly Catholic Rosemary Woodhouse is a painfully innocent newlywed who goes from a quiet Dakota homemaker to being drugged, raped and impregnated with the child of Satan by her occultist neighbours. It is Farrow’s almost nauseatingly saccharine disposition and stereotypically archaic femininity that makes her abuse so particularly traumatic, alongside a noisy comment on patriarchal gender tropes. With a wardrobe filled with babydolls and gingham, nobody has ever looked as dreamily angelic as Mia Farrow with a pixie cut carrying the Antichrist in her womb.

Wendy Torrance, The Shining, 1980 (Stanley Kubrick)

Shelley Duvall is another horror heroine who casting director’s dreams are made of. She was described by Roger Ebert as being “like a precious piece of china,” her straggly hair, wide eyes and deathly pallor make for a perfect foil to Jack Nicholson’s stocky, hyper-aggressive masculinity. Swamped in gingham and strangled by polo neck jumpers, Torrance appears constantly overwhelmed and spends the majority of her screen time crying. In addition, Kubrick was famously nasty to Duvall on set, which results in one of the most frail, traumatised depictions of womanhood ever captured on film.

Suzy Bannion, Suspiria, 1977 (Dario Argento)

Dario Argento’s cult masterpiece Suspiria centres on the arrival of ballet dancer Suzy Bannion at a German dance academy run by a coven of witches. The film achieved iconic status thanks to its stylistic cinematography and super-vivid technicolour that, alongside a soundtrack scored by Goblin, results in a theatrical, nightmarish frenzy. Suzy is a waifish vision of the seventies draped in shimmering satins, crochet and super-chaste frilly nightwear worn with brushed-out curls – and her perpetual expression of frightened confusion is one that has become eerily familiar throughout this selection.

Willow MacGregor, The Wicker Man, 1973 (Robin Hardy)

When fervently Christian detective Sergeant Howie visits a remote island in the Hebrides to investigate a young girl’s disappearance, he finds a community celebrating May Day with pagan rituals. Whilst visiting, he stays at the local inn where he meets Willow, the innkeeper’s daughter, who attempts to sway him from his Christian path. Willow’s responsibility for demonstrating the loose morals of the Summerisle heathens (and testing Howie’s purity) is exhibited with a bizarre bawdiness – but Britt Ekland’s Bond-girl, pouting sexuality marked her (and her role as Willow) as an iconic figure of seduction within horror.

Carol Ledoux, Repulsion, 1965 (Roman Polanski)

When her sister leaves her alone in their Kensington flat, Carol Ledoux descends into hysterical madness. Pathologically repulsed by men and sex, she falls into a psychosis, hallucinating assailants and brutally murdering those who come to her home trying to seduce her before falling into a paralysing catatonia. Played by Catherine Deneuve, Ledoux’s astonishingly iconic beauty, doe-eyes and coiffed hair spectacularly contradict her constant state of ever-heightening anxiety and fear of her own sexuality and provocation. Once quoted as calling her beauty a burden, Repulsion is a captivatingly frightening examination of sexual objectification in which the enigmatic Deneuve is in her element, dressed in painfully alluring transparent nighties and writhing on the floor in half-naked madness. 

Carrie White, Carrie, 1976 (Brian De Palma)

Sissy Spacek has a presence that seems to epitomise the dichotomy of women in horror: constantly and frantically petrified yet disturbingly sinister. Another lapsed Catholic, the abused Carrie plays the picture of devout teen naiveté in pastel two-pieces until she recognises her gift for telekinesis and wreaks revenge on her tormentors in a blood-drenched prom dress. Then, she crucifies her mother whilst wearing a white cotton nightie. Terrifying.

Angel Blake, Blood on Satan’s Claw, 1970 (Piers Haggard)

Heavy-lidded, pouting beauty Linda Hayden plays possessed teenager Angel Blake in Blood on Satan’s Claw, a film that makes being in a 17th century teenage cult look a little like being backstage on a Cara Delevingne photo shoot. Heavily pencilled eyebrows, smudged eyeliner, tousled hair under floral wreaths: a satanic evil infecting a pagan town has never looked so on-trend.

Marion Crane, Psycho, 1960 (Alfred Hitchcock)

Janet Leigh stars as secretary Marion Crane in one of the most revered horror films of all time, where she escapes discovery for stealing $40,000 in the Bates Motel. However, her precisely set hairstyles and wardrobe of high-necked, cinched-waist dresses pale in comparison to the celebrated shower scene where heavy brows, soaked hair and darkened lips encircling a wide scream (alongside a filmic technique enshrined in mystery) cemented her as one of film’s most iconic murder victims.

Sally Hardesty, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974 (Tobe Hooper)

When their truck breaks down in rural Texas, a group of roadtripping teenagers stumble across the home of the Sawyer family and are subsequently massacred, survived only by Sally Hardesty. Sally – the quintessential 70s babe, with long, blonde hair and white flares – manages to escape to safety but in ripped clothes and smeared in blood. Spending the significant proportion of the film panting and crying, Sally is the epitome of the exploitation film final female and her panicked, frantic vulnerability set the tone for slasher films for decades to follow.

Countess Báthory, Daughters of Darkness, 1971 (Harry Kümel)

Newlywed couple Stefan and Valerie are on their honeymoon in Belgium when they encounter Hungarian Countess Báthory who becomes obsessed with them. Director Harry Kümel said that he styled the lesbian vampire Countess on Marlene Dietrich and dressed her in Nazi colours (black, red and plenty of sequins) for a terrifyingly beautiful murderess with bloody red lips and 1920s pincurls that even Camille Paglia described as “world-weary, hierarchical glamour”.

Check out Altuzarra's SS15 show below:

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