Since the arrival of horror films, serial killers have become absolute icons of the silver screen. There are plenty of movies with killers portrayed stereotypically as powerful, young, almost indestructible-looking men. But what about women killers? Initially, unlike what happens with the male gender, women killers’ place in cinema has been closely related to their role imposed by society: obsessive caregivers, envious, and almost always under a man’s shadow, like Pamela Vorhees in Friday the 13th. Other productions featured women who killed out of envy, greed, and sometimes they were simply passive companions of their murderous partners.
However, with Monster‘s arrival in 2003, the patterns of women killers began to break. This gripping and moving thriller was inspired by the real-life story of Aileen Wuornos, a sex worker executed in Florida in 2002 after being convicted of murdering six men. Although Wuornos confessed to the six murders, she claimed to have killed only in self-defense as she resisted being the victim of violent attacks while she worked. With the advent of this film, women killers were no longer caretakers who were unbounded by their obsession, but complex, cold, fearless characters.
Although nowadays there is a greater presence of women as serial killers in cinema, the collective imagination still associates the role to the male gender. That is why, below, we will take a look at films starring women serial killers.
6 Under The Skin
An alien entity inhabits the body of a woman (Scarlett Johansson) on Earth and wanders the streets of Scotland with only one goal: to captivate lonely and unwitting men to a fatal fate, sending them to an otherworldly dimension to be consumed. However, earthly existence begins to change for this alien visitor, who discovers herself to be a human, a situation that leads to tragic and terrifying consequences.
This science fiction feature film, directed by Jonathan Glazer and inspired by Michael Faber’s novel of the same name, is full of disturbing images, in which an interplay of silence and dark tones work in harmony with the narrative of this story, which has already become a key piece of contemporary science fiction. Something interesting about Under The Skin is that most of the sequences with extras were shot with hidden cameras, without people knowing that they were being filmed, in order to obtain their most natural reactions.
This 1976 American horror thriller was directed by Brian De Palma and written by Lawrence D. Cohen, following the first novel by renowned writer Stephen King. Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is a teenage recluse who is harassed by her classmates. She has no friends and is having the worst time of her life. One day, following an incident in the gym showers, the young girl discovers that something is beginning to change in her, and she starts to see her life with different eyes and wants to take revenge on all those who hurt her. One thing no one knows so far is that Carrie has a newfound telekinesis that allows her to be absolutely destructive, so when her classmates decide to play a practical joke on her at the prom, they don’t quite realize the danger they might be facing. Carrie was a huge hit at the time of its premiere, so a few years later, in 1999, a sequel was released and years later two remakes, although none as good as the original film.
Paul Sheldon (James Caan), a famous novelist, wakes up in the house of Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), a huge fan of his, without knowing how or why he is there. Wilkes explains to him that after a heavy snowfall, his car went off the road and that she saved his life. However, very soon Annie’s seemingly cozy home turns into a dark prison for the writer.
Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Misery has all the ingredients to be a gripping thriller: a character immobilized and in charge of a crazy woman obsessed with him, a house in the middle of nowhere and a constant interplay between expression and secrecy of the true motivations of each character. Directed by Rob Reiner, the film garnered numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Leading Actress, the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama and the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) Award for Best Actress, all for Kathy Bates, turning her into one of cinema’s most terrifying villains.
3 Tragedy Girls
Tragedy Girls is a 2017 horror-comedy directed by Tyler MacIntyre that features Brianna Hildebrand, Alexandra Shipp, Craig Robinson and Josh Hutcherson, among others. In it, we follow the story of Sadie (Hildebrand) and McKayla (Shipp), two teenagers so obsessed with making it big on social media that they decide to hatch a macabre plan: kidnap Lowell, a serial killer, to train them in the art of horror so that they can become famous on the internet by creating their own show about real tragedies. Initially, everything goes according to plan, but when things take a different path and Lowell is set free, the girls have no choice but to reconsider their entire plan. The film twists the slasher genre similarly to The Final Girls and Scream Queens, harshly criticizing the narcissism generated by the constant use of social networks.
A group of friends goes out with a van looking for a weekend of freedom and wildness. On their way they meet an adult woman whom they ask to buy alcohol for them, since they have not yet reached the age of majority. To the teenagers’ surprise, this lady is more than charming, and in addition to buying them exactly what they asked for, she offers them her own house for them to have a party. Once there, she sets them only one condition: they can do whatever they want in the basement, but they must not go up into the house. Of course, the young people think they have found the perfect hostess, but soon strange things begin to happen and make them doubt this apparently lovely woman’s intentions, turning their daydream weekend into a nightmare.
Ma is a suspense thriller directed by Tate Taylor and written by Scotty Landes. It features Octavia Spencer, Luke Evans, Juliette Lewis, Diana Silvers, McKaley Miller and Corey Fogelman. It grossed $61.1 million worldwide and received mixed reviews from critics, who praised Octavia Spencer’s performance but criticized the teen characters for not making the most of their potential.
Titane is a French horror film written and directed by Julia Ducournau, first released in 2021. This film turned the director into the second woman in history to take home the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival. According to critics, it is the most shocking film of 2021, where Ducournau creates an extreme nightmare unlike anything you would expect from a horror film, making the audience squirm in their seats.
The film follows the story of Alexia (Agathe Rouselle) suffered a childhood car accident that left her with trauma, a titanium plate in her skull and a strange affection for cars. Now working as a show dancer, she has committed several serial murders and, to hide from the police, she decides to impersonate the son of Vincent (Vincent Lindon), who has been missing for ten years. After changing his look, the man takes in Alexia thinking he is his son Adrienne, although no one around him seems to believe it. And as if that wasn’t enough, Alexia is now pregnant from her relationship with a car.
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