Horror cinema is often seen as being populated by two particular female types: the overtly sexualized protagonists who are often killed off first, or the disenchanted women who seek revenge for what has been done to them. We explore the underrated horror movies whose female lead either challenges the norms of cult classics, or carries an otherwise predictable storyline.
Whether it is the unexpected self defense skills of Erin in home invasion movie You’re Next, the admirable perseverance of deaf mute Maddie in Hush, or the adrenaline-fuelled females of The Descent, these women are packing a punch, and they are changing the way we look at the horror genre.
Here are 13 Underrated Horror Movies With Female Leads.
13 All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
Anyone would be easily fooled into pre-judging this film as any easy one to mock, due to it’s easy-on-the-eyes casting of Amber Heard as Mandy. Ruthlessly bullied from an early age, Mandy is a typical ugly duckling who blossoms into an attractive young woman, something all the boys at school start to notice.
No longer an outcast with her peers, Mandy is invited to a party in the Texan countryside where the teens are picked off one by one by a mysterious psychopath. While the movie has the blueprints typical of any horror, Mandy flips the typical slasher film on it’s head with a rather surprising twist.
12 Jennifer's Body
Needy Lesnicki is your run-of-the-mill nerd who is weirdly obsessed with popular girl and best friend Jennifer. But what happens when your BFF becomes demonic and runs rampant, taking to eating all the boys in school alive?
After meeting a satanic rock band one night, Needy and Jennifer’s lives change forever with the latter being kidnapped and possessed in a ritual gone wrong. Although Megan Fox’s Jennifer supplies the sexy, audiences become enthralled by Amanda Seyfried’s trauma as her friendship with Jennifer disintegrates, a feeling that is then replaced with a new-found strength as she pulls it together to save the town, and indeed the world, from the evil musicians.
11 Ginger Snaps
Canadian frightfest Ginger Snaps tells the story of two teen sisters, outcast in their suburban neighborhood. The pair have a morbid curiosity, going to the lengths of making a pact with each other that if one were to die, the other would go with them.
Their lives take a frightful turn when Ginger is savagely attacked by a creature. However, she appears to miraculously recover. As she comes to the realization that she is a werewolf, her sister Brigitte is forced to find a way of helping her cope with the problems. Despite it’s gore and gristle, the siblings form a united front to tackle the metaphorical evil that is puberty.
10 House at the End of the Street
It might be something embedded in us, but there is always a natural urge to expect horror movies to disappoint. Perhaps the predictable House at the End of the Street proves us right, but it’s acting performances do not. Award-winner Jennifer Lawrence carries the movie as Elissa, a teen who has moved to the suburbs with her mother after her parents’ divorce.
She is immediately drawn to neighbour Ryan, who lives in the house his parents and younger sister were murdered in. But is he hiding a terrible secret? Elissa shines as the scream queen, making us care even if the unimaginative storyline does seem like a simple regurgitation.
9 Sexy Killer
A horror with blood, gore and a splash of fun, Sexy Killer is a Spanish production that packs a punch. The movie follows the story of Barbara, a femme fatale fashionista and student with an extremely violent streak, who embarks on a series of murderous sprees.
In a ludicrous (or genius) plot twist, a pair of students at the same university are experimenting in the lab to find a cure for headaches but instead manage to bring all of the victims of the ‘campus killer’ back to life. Cue Barbara, who tortures and slashes her way through the undead, achieving that tricky balance between comedy and horror in gory glory.
8 The Innkeepers
Awkward teen Claire (Sara Paxton) is working her last weekend shift at a hotel with co-worker Luke, before it is due to be shut down. Both being ghost enthusiasts and with knowledge that the building is haunted, they seize their chance to explore the paranormal goings on. What makes Claire an underrated protagonist is her normcore status. She talks profusely, works herself up and is unashamed to talk about her weird obsession she has with a woman who may have died at the hotel.
What charms the audience is her bravery, however, with her morbid curiosity taking the place of the fear others would feel. In many movies of this genre, it seems the female struggles to multi-task: they are either strong-willed or crumble at the perpetrator’s feet. Luckily Claire possesses both qualities.
When a government scientist manages to intercept a space transmission with the key to alien life, he uses it to create an human/alien hybrid, and a beautiful one at that. Wrecking the lab in which she was created, Sil (Natasha Henstridge) goes on a rampage, driven by her instinct to reproduce with a male.
Although this may sound like a yawn-worthy and indeed outdated storyline, her black widow-esque persona sees her outward beauty and innocence transform into a lethal killer, with her barb-covered tongue used as a weapon to impale. With the chances of survival slim, Sil makes one formidable female.
When you think of a quintessential horror movie, one involving an ominous mirror may not spring to mind, but with chilling atmosphere and pure psychological terror, Director Mike Flanagan pulled off one memorable scarefest with Oculus.
Protagonist Kaylie is passionate about exonerating her brother who was convicted of murder, attempting to blame the occult mirror that sits in their family home as the perpetrator. Taking place in two interchanging timelines between the present and the events 11 years earlier, the audience sees Kaylie maintain a steely resolve and unfaltering determination as a firm state of dread is established. A true force to be reckoned with, Kaylie’s sibling loyalty and thirst for justice is an inspiring one.
Despite the fact that Byzantium has a mother-daughter pairing that act as lead throughout the film, it is vampiric mother Clara who proves her metal. On the run from fellow members of the undead, Clara holes up in an abandoned hotel, set in the backdrop of a grim seaside town. Gemma Arterton depicts the mysterious character, a hard-working prostitute and lap dancer who uses her intelligence and shrewd senses to attempt to make a lucrative business for herself.
It is fair to say there is no shortage of vampire stories out there, from the maudlin popularity of Twilight to the spoof movie Vampires Suck, but with it’s bleak British beaches and plight of it’s characters, there’s something terribly human about Byzantium, and in fact Clara.
Carefully crafted horror-comedy Severance sees a group of coworkers take off on a retreat to the Hungarian mountains, where team building soon turns bloody after a killer lurking in the woods targets them. Laura Harris depicts Maggie, one of the arms saleswomen who is put through hell throughout.
The audience gains admiration for her due to her immense coping strategies and ability to pull through a number of the situations she is faced with. She also manages to stay one step ahead of her aggressors using what limited resources they have to their advantage, definitely someone you would want on your team.
After a childhood bout of meningitis left her deaf and mute, author Maddie defiantly lives alone in the countryside where she demonstrates her fierce independence. Her life dramatically changes when a masked crossbow-wielding psycho kills her neighbour and appears outside her home, telling her she’s next to die. Although clearly terrified and indeed cornered, Maddie’s perseverance to survive is to be revered.
With a high fear factor and a low predictability, the horror puts the audience in the place of the protagonist, a soundless, isolated world in which help is even further at hand. Although it is a tense and often desperate struggle with twists and turns, the audience passionately roots for Maddie to come out on top in the end.
2 You're Next
What could be more innocent than a couple proposing a getaway in order to mend family ties between their children?
Accompanying her boyfriend and Davidson family member Crispian, You're Next sees protagonist Erin almost go from meeting the parents to meeting her maker as the holiday home is plummeted into terror when a psychopathic group in animal masks invade in an attempt to murder all inside. Little do the assailants know that Erin has a secret talent for fighting back, as her unexpected skills see her remorselessly bludgeoning one of the home invaders to death. Skilled with an axe and looking like blood spatters suit her, she’s not one you want to mess with.
1 The Descent
Neil Marshall’s The Descent redefined the role of women in horror movies. No longer were they the object of the male gaze gone horribly wrong, or on a bloodthirsty revenge mission. The British horror banished the idea of the overtly sexualized female in favour of a group of friends who are in search of adrenaline-fuelled thrills.
Reuniting in an attempt to heal one of their friends who has experienced family trauma, the group travel to the Appalachians, where their potholing trip goes horribly wrong. Although Sarah, the grieving widow, is seen as the protagonist, all six women play a definitive role in challenging gender norms when it comes to blood-soaked horrors.
Can you think of any other female-led horror movies that should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!