The Ninjabot

The Top 5 Horror Film Heroines More Bad-Ass Than Ripley

Posted on August 2, 2013 at 10:00 am by Jason Byard

Now…I’m not trying to take anything away from Sigourney Weaver’s much heralded performance as Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley in Ridley’s Scott’s equally adored sci-fi horror classic Alien. It was a watershed moment for the characterization of women in that particular genre and it was a great illustration of how traditional gender roles has changed over time and blah, blah, blah. It’s important, it matters, I get it, I’m not Rush Limbaugh. I’m just saying: we’ve heard it all more times than we needed to. And, frankly, we’ve heard it enough about Jamie Leigh Curtis in Halloween and Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs too. The fact is, horror movies have leaned pretty heavily on the ladies to fill the role of resident bad-ass and more than a few have filled that roll exceptionally. Here’s just a smattering.

#1.) Fran, Dawn of the Dead (1978)

FranDawnOfTheDeadA full year ahead of Sigourney Weaver in Alien, it was the lesser known Gaylen Ross that broke the mold that cast the modern horror heroine. But while she may never have achieved the feminist icon status of Ripley, Fran is decidedly more deserving of the title. Granted, she may still be responsible for cooking and cleaning in her survivor group’s shopping mall bungalow, and she may also serve as the erstwhile “feminine voice of reason,” but for her time she’s an uncharacteristically assertive female horror movie character. She takes her male-counterparts to task for their chauvinism, demanding not only to be armed but also to have an equal say in the group’s scheming. Later she mows down zombies from the rooftop with a sniper rifle like some post-apocalyptic Charles Whitman, but with better hair. And then she caps it all off by nonchalantly shooting down her doofy boyfriend’s half-assed marriage proposal (a scene that is vastly more cringe-inducing than any of the film’s much vaunted gore effects). Oh, and she can fly a helicopter while in her third trimester of pregnancy. Beat that, Zuul.

#2.) Cynthia Cronenberg, Night of the Creeps (1986)

night of the creepsThe arithmetic here is simple: Beautiful Woman in Formal Gown + Old School Word War II Era Flame Thrower = The Best Thing of All Time. It’s not quantum physics, kids. This criminally underrated, quintessentially 80’s offering from Monster Squad director Fred Dekker is one of those glorious few movies that hits pretty much every note right. Equal parts comedy and horror, campy yet sincere, Jill Whitlow’s Cynthia Cronenberg is the ideal female lead for this movie. When we first meet her, she’s a seemingly blatant Princess Zelda figure. A sorority house damsel in distress who’s going to be in dire need of saving before the credits roll. Skip ahead to the end and what once seemed like a perfunctory plot coupon is now knee deep in the carnage, mercilessly frying frat boy zombies and alien slugs alike. That is, when she’s not also wielding a 12 gauge. The icing on the cake, of course, is the fact that the character’s name is an homage to director David Cronenberg. I mean, how can you not fall just a tad in love with a girl named for the guy who made The Brood?

#3.) Jennifer Hills, I Spit on Your Grave (1978)

spitonyourgraveI defy you to come up with a more viscerally arresting female protagonist than the leading lady of this, the granddaddy of all rape-revenge movies. The actress, Camille Keaton, never really ended up getting the credit she deserved for delivering what is really a stunning performance. She seamlessly manages her character’s transformation from a sweet, naively optimistic Cosmo-girl into a pitiless, steely-eyed dealer of death. And, OH, the deaths she deals. This still remains a difficult movie for any guy to sit through, both because all the men in the film are portrayed as rape-happy troglodytes capable of Ted Bundy levels of misogyny, and because their respective comeuppances, as dished out by Keaton, are so terrifically brutal. A hanging, an axe murder, and two (count ‘em!) grisly castrations, the last of which is accomplished by the strategic use of an outboard motor on a fishing boat and complemented by the simply marvelous line: “Suck it, bitch!” That declaration alone earns her a place in the horror heroine bad-ass pantheon.

#4.) Ilsa, Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS (1975)

ilsaI know, Ilsa’s not really a “heroine”, per se. But if we’re clocking this thing in terms of just sheer womanly power within the construct of a horror movie, it would be well nigh unforgivable to overlook Dyanne Thorne’s unapologetically filthy (and it is filthy) performance as the bustiest death-camp commander in the whole Third Reich. Essentially a female Josef Mengele (or “Femmengele”, if you will), Ilsa spends her days subjecting nubile young untermenschen to a dizzyingly sadistic array of grotesque medical experiments, ostensibly designed to prove that women should be allowed to fight on the front lines on behalf of the Fuhrer and Fatherland. The text at the film’s outset says this is all historically accurate, but something tells me Ilsa’s industrial strength uber dildo would probably have been considered a bit much, even by Nazi standards. In her off hours, Frau Kommandant is busy rogering the camp’s male prisoners and castrating those who fail to satisfy her. It’s all very vagina dentata, and that’s without even mentioning the infamous “yellow discipline” scene. And if that’s not enough for you, she manages to return for three sequels, despite this movie ending with her head exploding.

5.) Mia, Evil Dead (2013)

Jane Levy in TriStar Pictures' horror EVIL DEAD.Bruce Campbell famously severs his demon-encrusted hand with a chainsaw during one of the more memorable scenes in Evil Dead 2. It falls to his successor as chief Deadite-Slayer, Jane Levy, to one up him in this remake of the 1981 horror classic. Her character, Mia, is such an unqualified hard case that she sees no need to take the easy route of lopping off her hand with the closest available power tool. No, when Mia finds herself with her arm trapped beneath a car at the film’s climax she cowboys up and does things the old fashioned way: by breaking bones and tearing her own flesh until the damn thing just pulls right off, like Laffy Taffy stretched too far. In a movie filled with wince-eliciting scenes this may be the wince-eliciting-est. And, even in that condition, she still manages to not only start a chainsaw, but also to shove it through Beelzebub’s skull and save the day. THAT is what makes Mia such a great heroine. Let’s compare her to that most storied of male predecessors, Ash. As a character, she’s much more complex and compelling than Bruce Campbell’s much beloved buffoon. As a screen bad-ass, she’s every bit his equal in the “Enduring Massive Trauma Whilst Successfully Dispatching the Spawn of Satan Department.” It’s enough to make you wonder if maybe Ilsa was on to something with that “women in combat” business.

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