Saturday, June 23, 2018

Guest Post by Christa Carmen

Top Ten Badass Horror Heroines in Film and Television

By

Christa Carmen

Join me as I count down the top ten badass female protagonists from some of the greatest horror films and television series, having rated them using the following ‘Badass Meter’:
           
*    Amount of Blood Withstood
*    Subjected to Quintessential Horror Villains (serial killers, ghosts, zombies, etc.)
*    Witnessing Everyone She Loves Die
*    Mental Prowess in the Face of Evil and/or Warrior-worthy Combat Skills
*    Physical Pain Endured

Be warned...like estrogen, f-bombs, blood, and guts, spoilers abound, and all the views expressed within this post, including subjective analyses of the films, and the explorations of the themes within, are my own.

Runners-up: Eleven, Stranger Things; Vanessa Ives, Penny Dreadful; Laurie Strode, Halloween; Jennifer Hills, I Spit on Your Grave.

10) Dana, The Cabin in the Woods (Kristen Connolly) 

It may seem ambitious to kick off a list of horror badassery with a woman who decides that, confronted with the prospect of giant evil gods, humanity isn’t really worth saving after all, but Dana, of The Cabin in the Woods, loses a few points for foolishly reading aloud from the diary of Anna Patience Buckner, and releasing the zombified Buckner family to terrorize her and her friends. Despite this, Dana’s role overall is rife with instances of her rising above her fear—and the genre’s slasher-trope stereotypes—to behave in ways that leave the audience no choice but to appreciate her resiliency and resourcefulness.

Poised to be the final death that will complete the ritual, assailed by a zombie beneath the dock of a moonlit lake, Dana keeps her head above water long enough for Marty to return and thwart her impending sacrifice, ritual-enabling underground facility workers and celebratory music be damned. Sick of being at the mercy of a couple of suits pushing buttons, subjecting her to the entire catalogue of horror movie villains—monsters and werewolves, giant snakes and evil clowns, witches, mutants, wraiths, a basilisk, goblins, unicorns, and even a mermen—Dana turns the tables by releasing the horde on the facility that had heretofore contained them.  

Ultimately, despite the Director’s entreaties for Dana to save the world, she decides that humanity has had a good run, but that “it’s time to give someone else a chance.” Cue the doomsday music, and the uprising of the giant evil gods mentioned above. It was a weighty decision, but someone had to make it, and Dana conducted herself up to that moment with humor, class, and heart.

            Badass Meter
*    Amount of Blood Withstood: 2
*    Subjected to Quintessential Horror Villains: 10
*    Witnessing Everyone She Loves Die: 9 (She knows it’s going to happen, but technically will not have to witness it, since she’ll be dead too.)
*    Mental Prowess in the Face of Evil and/or Warrior-worthy Combat Skills: 4
*    Physical Pain Endured: 2

Total: 27


9) Ashley, Better Watch Out (Olivia DeJonge)

Holiday horror films usually encompass a certain level of humor, but a film that plays for laughs as well as fear can still be propelled by a badass horror heroine. Enter Ashley, of 2017’s Christmas-themed horror/thriller, Better Watch Out. Ashley has struck a raw deal before the carnage has even commenced: she’s babysitting a pathetic little twerp whose feelings for her are as poorly disguised as the zipper up the back of a B-movie monster suit. Phone calls are eavesdropped upon, fantasies are shared with an equally pathetic best friend, and when a burglar apparently breaks in, oaths of protection are sworn.

Ashley soon realizes that this is the worst babysitting gig in history, because Luke is actually a sociopathic twerp, and one who comes uncomfortably close to succeeding in his sinister plot. Ashley is strapped to a chair by strands of Christmas lights, witnesses her boyfriend’s brutal death-by-paint-can, Home Alone style, is groped by her creepy charge, and, for all her spunk, backtalk, and cleverness, still has her throat slit when Luke’s patience wanes.

Her defiance in the face of every stunt Luke pulls is refreshing; in fact, the more smug, gleeful, and obnoxious Luke is, the more we mourn Ashley’s apparent demise. So when the EMT leading Ashley toward an ambulance proclaims she’s still alive, and commends her quick thinking in putting duct tape over the wound, we can hardly help pumping a fist and shouting in glee. Luke freezes, clearly shocked by the news, and when he looks out the window, his insufferable features suffused with childish disbelief, Ashley peers up at him from her stretcher and, ever defiant, flips him the bird.

I watched this movie twice over the 2017 holiday season, and Ashley’s refusal to let an entitled, whiny, lethal little shit get the best of her warmed my cold, dead heart more than any ugly Christmas sweater or mug of Trader Joe’s hot chocolate could have.  

            Badass Meter
*    Amount of Blood Withstood: 3
*    Subjected to Quintessential Horror Villains: 4 (‘Just’ a serial killer, but an annoyingly gleeful and obnoxiously persistent one!)
*    Witnessing Everyone She Loves Die: 7
*    Mental Prowess in the Face of Evil and/or Warrior-worthy Combat Skills: 8
*    Physical Pain Endured: 8 (Slit throat? No thanks...)

Total: 30


8) Kathy, The Monster (Zoe Kazan)

I’m not sure how many people have seen the Bryan Bertino (The Strangers, The Strangers: Prey at Night)-directed The Monster, but it’s an underrated and underappreciated film, with a highly nuanced and masterfully developed main character. Kathy is a young mother who’s spent much of her life struggling with alcoholism. Her plan to drive her ten-year old daughter, Lizzy, to see her father differs greatly from Lizzy’s: sick of Kathy’s drinking and broken promises, Lizzy proposes living with her father permanently. An unexpected encounter with a hellish creature in the woods showcases that a) Kathy was always stronger than she realized, and b) being a mother does not automatically make you a warm and honorable person, neither does it mean your past discretions define you.

Kathy was an alcoholic for whom sobriety remained elusive. She was verbally abusive to and neglectful of her child, but I was never able to fully fault her for these flaws, devastating and heartbreaking though they were. Some people—mothers who love their children included—are never able to achieve sobriety, no matter how hard they work at it.

Her alcoholism defined her, nearly broke her as a person, and poisoned her relationship with her only child, but one cannot say the same of the massive, flesh-eating monster that assailed her. The monster, unlike alcohol, was a foe from which Kathy did not back down, and her willingness to sacrifice herself to save her daughter was noble, even beautiful, in spite of all her previous failings.

            Badass Meter
*    Amount of Blood Withstood: 6
*    Subjected to Quintessential Horror Villains: 9
*    Witnessing Everyone She Loves Die: 2 (For the fear that her daughter won’t make it out of the woods, despite Kathy’s sacrifice.)
*    Mental Prowess in the Face of Evil and/or Warrior-worthy Combat Skills: 7
*    Physical Pain Endured: 9

Total: 33

7) Juno, The Descent (Natalie Mendoza)

Let me preface this horror heroine profile by stating that I’m writing it as if The Descent 2 never happened. Because, let me be blunt here...it shouldn’t have. In The Descent, a claustrophobia-inducing creature feature about a spelunking expedition gone wrong Shauna Macdonald’s character, Sarah, is generally perceived to be the film’s protagonist. While Sarah has badass qualities, they a) don’t really compare to Juno’s, and b) are sullied by the fact that Sarah breaks a cardinal rule of the horror heroine sisterhood and betrays her former best friend, wounding her and leaving her for dead, despite the ‘Love Each Day’ necklace further evidencing the obvious point that Sarah’s husband was as guilty of perpetuating the affair as Juno was.

While some may see Juno as impulsive and narcissistic, I found it hard to see her actions as motivated by malice. She seems sincere in her desire to bring her fractured group of friends together, challenging them to accomplish their next great adventure, and—whether motivated by guilt or not—she does wish to repent to Sarah, and to assist her in moving past her grief in losing her (ahem, cheating) husband, and young daughter. Sure, Juno leaves the map behind and leads the group into an uncharted cave system, but the other women are adults; rather than blame Juno for what is their own complicity in following her like sheep to the slaughter, one of the spelunkers could have done a little research themselves. Once the cave-dwelling, goblinesque super predators begin to attack, Juno fights them with a vehemence and urgency none of the other women come close to possessing. Beth should have known not to sneak up on an adrenaline-fueled warrior-woman with an axe clutched between her hands!

The action sequence in which Juno battles the crawlers is proof enough of her mettle. I am convinced that, despite the pickaxe in her calf, Juno could have grabbed Judas, err, I mean, Sarah, thrown her to the crawlers, and escaped to at least the boneyard Sarah makes it to in the film’s final scene, but she allows her friend to escape, choosing instead to accept her fate, or perhaps her punishment, and fight the mutant creatures to the death.

            Badass Meter
*    Amount of Blood Withstood: 6
*    Subjected to Quintessential Horror Villains: 7
*    Witnessing Everyone She Loves Die: 8
*    Mental Prowess in the Face of Evil and/or Warrior-worthy Combat Skills: 10
*    Physical Pain Endured: 7

Total: 38


6) Rocky, Don’t Breathe (Jane Levy)

Let the Jane Levy lovefest begin. Her portrayal of an amateur thief who makes her living by breaking into Detroit homes protected by a friend’s father’s security company is superb, and very likely the foundation for a film dubbed by one critic as “the best American horror film of the past twenty years.” Rocky longs to move to California with her little sister, Diddy, to escape their abusive mother and her alcoholic boyfriend. Is Rocky a morally sound character? Absolutely not. Is she doing her best to rise above an unfortunate situation and pursue a better life for herself and her younger sister? Definitely. How about a woman defined by determination and perseverance, who combats a Gulf War veteran with a chip on his shoulder the size of his vicious, muscle-bound Rottweiler and a twisted agenda to hold a (any?) young woman captive in order to psychologically torture and forcefully impregnate? Yup.

The genius of this Fede Álvarez-directed home invasion thriller-with-a-twist is its ability to consistently shift the viewer’s sympathies from one character to another as the suspense escalates. At the start, the blind homeowner is observed as having to defend himself against three dishonorable punks. This changes quickly, and Rocky, her lover, and her best friend step into the roles of the good guys, the audience rooting for them even as the trio begins to falter. Money and Alex are both killed. Rocky suffers a black eye, numerous attacks by the blind man’s dog, a harrowing trek through the house’s ventilation duct, an attempted sexual assault, and hours of mental torment.

In the end, Rocky triumphs, but her escape is interrupted by a news broadcast sharing the information that her adversary has survived his injuries. Her response to this is to take her sister’s hand, follow the sign for departures, and not look back. Ideally, she will never look back, and will keep herself as blind to the events that led to her deliverance as the blind man was to the image of her face.

            Badass Meter
*    Amount of Blood Withstood: 5
*    Subjected to Quintessential Horror Villains: 7
*    Witnessing Everyone She Loves Die: 9
*    Mental Prowess in the Face of Evil and/or Warrior-worthy Combat Skills: 10
*    Physical Pain Endured: 8

Total: 39


5) Madison “Maddie” Young, Hush (Kate Siegal)

Mike Flanagan’s canon of horror films are as enjoyable and unconventional as any being directed at present. Another home invasion thriller that bends the subgenre’s conventions, this 2017 film was co-written by Flanagan and his wife, Kate Siegel, who plays Maddie, a deaf writer living in an isolated house in the woods with only one nearby couple to call upon if needed, and a sister and parents she communicates with via Skype. When Maddie is stalked by a deranged, (briefly)-masked man with a penchant for human crossbow hunting, it appears her deafness will be a hindrance to staying alive. As the action progresses, Maddie’s inability to hear—coupled with a constructive inner monologue honed by her background as a fiction writer—allows her to transform from defenseless prey to preemptive hunter.  
                                                                                                
Several times over the course of the film, Flanagan chooses to cut the sound, dropping the viewer into the same well of silence through which Maddie is experiencing her ordeal. This sensation—in conjunction with the improbability of Maddie’s survival—is disorienting at its least, terrifying at its worst. And yet, Maddie not only rises above this deficit, but makes it work to her advantage.

She triumphs over the intruder because one man’s desire to inflict pain will not trump her desire, no, her need to live. Maddie needs to live to see her sister and her parents again. She needs to live to see her cat again. She needs to live to finish her work-in-progress novel, a manuscript she was plugging away at when her world was brutally and senselessly invaded. Maddie will be able to do these things because she refuses to allow herself to write an ending to her story that says otherwise.

            Badass Meter
*    Amount of Blood Withstood: 8
*    Subjected to Quintessential Horror Villains: 8
*    Witnessing Everyone She Loves Die: 5
*    Mental Prowess in the Face of Evil and/or Warrior-worthy Combat Skills: 9
*    Physical Pain Endured: 10

Total: 40


4) Michelle, 10 Cloverfield Lane (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)

I watched 10 Cloverfield Lane prior to having seen the 2008 found footage film, Cloverfield. So when Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character, Michelle, escapes the clutches of the paranoid and unhinged bunker proprietor, Howard, played to perfection by John Goodman, I figured the movie had reached its climax. Maybe there’d be the hint of some far off disaster, an insinuation of the post-apocalyptic world Michelle now inhabits, but I figured Howard’s conspiracy theories were as unfounded as his claims of having a daughter named Meghan. Alas, this was not the case.

Despite showcasing many admirable qualities throughout the film—the ability to withstand the ultimate mansplaining creep without falling prey to Stockholm Syndrome, her ingenuity in designing a Hazmat suit out of a shower curtain, duct tape, and a soda bottle, the tenacity to fan the flame of her hope long enough to elude Howard and feed him to his own acid bath—these are nothing compared to the strengths she displayed in the film’s final fifteen minutes.

Tossing a homemade Molotov cocktail into the open maw of a sentient alien-monster ship from another dimension takes some serious courage under fire, as does outrunning a chemical crop-duster, avoiding an underground bunker explosion, and surviving a hundred-foot fall to the earth while trapped in your former captor’s vehicle. Having sped away from Cloverfield Lane, Michelle hears an emergency radio broadcast: “...people in Houston who need our help. Come join us. We are taking back the southern seaboard, and we’re winning. If you have any medical training or combat experience, there are survivors.” The car inches forward toward Baton Rouge, then lurches left, to Houston. If the resistance wants survivors with combat experience, they can count themselves lucky to have Michelle.

[Aside: the continuation of Michelle’s uprising against the Cloverfield monsters would have made for an infinitely better third film in the franchise than the science fiction space station drama, The Cloverfield Paradox. I know, something like that wouldn’t have been in keeping with the spirit of the trilogy, and I understand that there’s an overarching narrative that links the three works together. I still thought The Cloverfield Paradox was uninspired. J.J. Abrams, take note...the Rotten Tomatoes scores alone (10 Cloverfield Lane: 90%; The Cloverfield Paradox: 17%) dictate that fans could get behind Mary Elizabeth Winstead reprising her role of Michelle in a fourth Cloverfield installation.]

            Badass Meter
*    Amount of Blood Withstood: 3
*    Subjected to Quintessential Horror Villains: 10
*    Witnessing Everyone She Loves Die: 10
*    Mental Prowess in the Face of Evil and/or Warrior-worthy Combat Skills: 10
*    Physical Pain Endured: 8

Total: 41


3) Kelly Maxwell, Ash vs. Evil Dead (Dana DeLorenzo)

Dana DeLorenzo’s portrayal of Kelly Maxwell has garnered some pretty high praise. Fans have dubbed her the ‘Female Ash,’ and declared her delivery of f-bombs, in all their iterations, to be on par with that of the original mother f***er, Samuel L. Jackson. Viewers are introduced to Kelly as a coworker of Ash and Pablo’s at S-Mart and at first, you cannot be sure she’s not an Evil Dead-verse throwaway character, destined to be mowed down by Evil, resurrected as a Deadite, and succumb to Ash’s chainsaw hand or boomstick. After Evil brings her mother back from the dead just to kill her again—along with Kelly’s father—Kelly dedicates her life to kicking Evil’s ass. In that instant, the show’s original powerful vagina is born.

Kelly’s transformation from a young woman oblivious to the devastation of Evil to full-blown shotgun-wielding, manic-puppet-slaying, one-liner-spewing, hard-swearing, harder-drinking, axe-chopping, blood-splattered, purple-leather-donning, clock-ignoring, groin-kneeing, head-butting, decapitated-head-punting, bird-flipping, She-Devil-challenging Ghost Beater is the crux of the series. Her ups and downs over three seasons are the stuff of great horror television, and fans were devastated when her attempt to destroy Ruby once and for all ended with the author of the Necronomicon plunging the Kandarian dagger through Kelly’s heart.

In true horror heroine badass fashion, even the Rift (Evil Dead underworld) is not enough to keep Kelly down. She returns to the land of the living in time to send Ash off on his mission to save the world; Ash is the Chosen One, after all. But a Kelly vs. Evil Dead spinoff series? Sign me up, mother f***er!   

            Badass Meter           
*    Amount of Blood Withstood: 10
*    Subjected to Quintessential Horror Villains: 9
*    Witnessing Everyone She Loves Die: 9
*    Mental Prowess in the Face of Evil and/or Warrior-worthy Combat Skills: 10
*    Physical Pain Endured: 9

Total: 47


2) Anna Assaoui, Martyrs (Morjana Alaoui)

I’ve written a lot about Martyrs in interviews and lists of my favorite horror films, because the film—with its three-subgenres-in-one structure and physical and existential dread-inducing narrative—is my favorite horror film. But an in-depth exploration of its central character is a different thing than an analysis of the film as a whole. Anna’s arc encompasses intense physical pain and psychological torture, and for long stretches of the film, it’s hard to see her as anything other than a victim. But two things allow her to rise above this victim status, to reclaim her identify and in a way, her autonomy, because both, when taken together, are the ultimate act of opposition to her captors.

By staying alive, by refusing to succumb to innumerable torments, the viewer might mistakenly believe that Anna has lost. She has given the Mademoiselle and her society what they want, reaching the ‘final stage,’ the brink of transcendental insight and euphoria, and poised to become a martyr. But taken in conjunction with her refusal to share the secret of the universe, for her delivery of a verdict that only incites the Mademoiselle’s suicide, she has given the society false hope where there was no hope to be had.

Anna’s salvation is not in becoming someone else’s martyr, but in her refusal to offer salvation to those who demanded it of her. A victim Anna is not, only a badass of a different, more superior, variety.   

            Badass Meter
*    Amount of Blood Withstood: 10 (Seeing as she’s flayed alive, I’m giving her the maximum amount of points here)
*    Subjected to Quintessential Horror Villains: 10
*    Witnessing Everyone She Loves Die: 8
*    Mental Prowess in the Face of Evil and/or Warrior-worthy Combat Skills: 10
*    Physical Pain Endured: 10

Total: 48


1) Mia, Evil Dead (Jane Levy)

Recommence the sounding of appreciation for Jane Levy! If you doubt her worthiness, check out the behind the scenes footage of this 2013 remake, produced by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, in which you’ll see just how much fake blood, long hours, and cold temperatures Levy had to withstand. When we arrive at the ever-sinister cabin in the woods, we meet Mia, her brother David, David’s girlfriend, and several friends, and discover that Mia was brought to this remote location in order to overcome her addiction to heroin. Let me reiterate that: our Evil Dead horror heroine travels to the cabin in the woods to detox, and everything she endures after her arrival is borne while simultaneously going through cold turkey withdrawal (or, as I like to look at it, everything evil that occurs is a metaphor for her withdrawal, a sort of possession in reverse, or a return to her original self).

Not long after she dumps her last bag of heroin onto the desecrated cabin grounds, the trouble begins: the shakes, cold sweats, stomach cramps, crushing depression, and bone-vibrating anxiety of withdrawal; the aching muscles, watering eyes, the hearing of voices, the witnessing of a bloody, demonic version of herself ahead in the road so that she crashes her car into a swamp and is violated by a black-tar-like vine of thorns that slithers inside and possesses her; the self-scalding, the splitting of her tongue, the forcing her friends to mutilate and torture and kill themselves, one by one; the disassociation from family, the loss of self, the loss of hope. In the end, Mia’s connection to David, and to her past, is just enough to overcome what’s inside her, to make it back to the other side. But like the craving to use again, the ever-looming threat of relapse, Deadite Mia won’t return to the bowels of Hell without a fight.

As the blood of a thousand damned souls, of a million opened veins, falls down around her, Mia’s evil persona prophesizes, “You’re gonna die here, you pathetic junkie.” In a moment that gives me goosebumps no matter how many times I’ve watched it, whether as part of the film as a whole or viewing that single scene, Mia sets her jaw, blinks blood from her eyes, and proclaims, “I’ve had enough of this shit.”

Then, like every addict who’s ever ‘had enough of this shit,’ she bears down and cleaves away that part of her she needs to destroy. As the bisected corpse of Evil Mia sinks back to Hell, the blood rain ceases and the sun rises in the sky. Her missing hand—the symbol of what she willingly gave up so the rest of her could survive—tucked against her body, she walks away from the blood and destruction, toward the promise of a new life.

            Badass Meter
*    Amount of Blood Withstood: 11
*    Subjected to Quintessential Horror Villains: 10
*    Witnessing Everyone She Loves Die: 10
*    Mental Prowess in the Face of Evil and/or Warrior-worthy Combat Skills: 10
*    Physical Pain Endured: 10

Total: 51



Thank you for coming along on this count down of the top ten badass horror heroines across film and television, and seek me out on social media if you’d like to discuss any of the Badass Meter ratings, or the horror heroines featured here in general:

Author Website: www.christacarmen.com  

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