Ladies of Horror May-hem: Debra Hill


Last call for Ladies, denizens, and just as my first draw this month was perfect (as has been every other draw, quite frankly), so too is this final draw.

In some ways, I guess you could say that I’ve broken my own rules…or at least bent them in twisty-like-a-pretzel ways. See, Debra Hill isn’t a character from a horror movie. Instead she was one of the originators of some of the greatest characters to grace the genre in modern times. While any casual horror fan knows that John Carpenter was behind bringing Michael Myers to the genre, what most people forget (or don’t know) is that Debra Hill both co-wrote Halloween with him and then produced it. And worked behind the scenes, doing everything from setting up equipment to bagging and unbagging leaves to help make a sunny, summery California neighborhood look like Haddonfield, Illinois in late October. Oh, and Haddonfield? That’s where she was born…only it’s really in New Jersey.

Hill went on to work with Carpenter on scripts for Halloween II, The Fog (which is another brilliant film that doesn’t seem to catch quite as much love from genre fans as that babysitter stalker movie does), and Escape From L.A., among other significant writing credits. She also was a proliferate and successful producer, thanks to the totally unexpected success of her first gig (again with that babysitter stalker movie!). Beyond producing a string of fantastic Carpenter movies or Carpenter-inspired movies like The Fog, Halloween II and III, Escape from New York, and Escape from L.A., she also produced The Dead Zone as well as the decidedly non-horror but still important to Loba, Adventures in Babysitting and Clue.

Not bad for a woman whom no one in the business took seriously when she first came to Hollywood a mere four years before hitting the right chord with that…yeah, you guessed it…that babysitter stalker movie. She once even noted, “Back when I started in 1974, there were very few women in the industry, and everybody called me ‘Honey.’ I was assumed to be the makeup and hair person, or the script person. I was never assumed to be the writer or producer. I took a look around and realized there weren’t many women, so I had to carve a niche for myself.”

Not only did she succeed in carving that niche, she carved her name into the very foundation of a genre that is decidedly not known for its overall welcoming nature toward women. True, by helping to co-write Halloween, she did help establish that somewhat patronizing “virginal final girl” trope, but holistically, Hill’s was a career of trailblazing brilliance (plus, I do cut her some slack since she did get Jamie Lee Curtis laid in The Fogand let her survive [spoilers]).

Sadly, Hill died of cancer in 2005, at the horrifyingly young age of 54. Obituaries noted that she was one of Hollywood’s first female producers, that she was a pioneer in the industry, an inspiration to women. Jamie Lee Curtis described her as “the most influential woman in my professional life.” John Carpenter said his relationship with Hill was “one of the greatest experiences of my life

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Clarice Starling


I’m not gonna lie, denizens. I may have squeed a little bit when I drew this name this morning. Even though I have been determined to abide by my rule of sticking with the random draw, she’s one of the ones I might have been willing to break the rules for had she not made the cut by chance. What can I say? Sometimes, rules are meant to be broken.

Of course, break too many rules and you might find yourself under investigation by today’s Lady of Horror May-hem, FBI Agent-in-Training Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster in director Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs.

Among all the other wonderful feelings I have for this character and this movie, this is not only the first time I can remember reading the book on which a particular movie is based but also one of the rare instances in which I believe the movie surpasses the book in quality. For full disclosure, I haven’t read the book since the movie came out, so I might feel differently now that I’m years older. Still, screenwriter Ted Tally did a beautiful job of translating Thomas Harris’s tale into cinematic form, and I don’t give a damn who else was considered for the role of Clarice before (or after) Foster, there is no other Clarice for me.

The truly spectacular thing about this character is the fact that there is an almost universal acceptance of her awesomeness. Not only did Foster win an Oscar for her performance (becoming only the second actress to win this award for a horror movie, following in the footsteps of the equally amazing Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes), but the American Film Institute named Clarice Starling sixth on its 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains list, making her the top-ranking heroine on the list. She even beat out the similarly universally accepted greatness of Ellen Ripley (only by two notches).

But what is it about Clarice Starling that so many people find so amazing? For me, it comes down to several key factors, including the fact that Hannibal Lecter finds her worthy. This is a man of unhinged brilliance, refined insanity. Were he not imprisoned for feeding his cannibalistic tendencies (heh), he would be sought the world over for his psychological insight, his incomprehensible grasp of the intricacies of the complicated human mind. He is quick to dismiss the dismal, the inept, the ingratiating…fame seekers and intellectual dilettantes.

But Clarice. From their very first meeting, he sees in her something that he has not seen for many a moon. He sees possibility. He sees, perhaps not an equal right away…but someone with the potential to rival him, to challenge him. And when he attempts to dissect her (with a soliloquy that I love so much, I have committed it completely to memory…in my best attempt at a Lecter accent)? She reins in every ounce of reaction, represses every emotion that his accurate verbal evisceration invokes within her, never falters in meeting his gaze. She will not be thrown by him. She will not be deterred in her mission. She will prevail, even if it means disobeying orders not to engage Lecter in the type of psychological sparring that he craves. She willingly lays herself bare emotionally for Lecter (something she very obviously has worked most of her life not to do for anyone), and the give-and-take relationship they cultivate is one of the most glorious ever committed to film.

Clarice Starling embodies the essence of determination and perseverance. She may stumble, and she may have much further to go in her personal and professional refinement, but she has never given up in her life. She has always tried to live by the dictates of an internal ethic sensibility that sometimes supersedes “accepted” sensibilities…whatever it takes to silence the screaming of self-perceived failings she carries within her.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Amanda Young


Time to get back to putting the mayhem in this month’s theme.

[Loba Tangent: Oh, yes, there will be spoilers, denizens.]

I’m willing to bet some of you are a little gobsmacked by today’s Lady. While I admittedly was surprised that the original Saw was nothing like I expected it to be (read: pointlessly violent and disgusting), I only made it through two of the sequels before throwing in the towel on the rest of the (pointlessly violent and disgusting) franchise.

All that being said, I was able to make it through the portion of Amanda Young’s living presence in the franchise (see? SPOILERZ), and, I have to admit, even though I didn’t really like her character, I was intrigued by her. More precisely, I was intrigued by the fact that, even though the antagonist of the original movie was male, writers Leigh Whannell and Darren Lynn Bousman opted to have him choose a female as his successor (or one of his successors, as I believe another was hinted at in the third film), thus making Amanda Young one of the first recurring lady slasher villains I can recall ever seeing. Even more interesting is the fact that she comes from one of the most successful horror franchises to hit the genre in a long time.

Now, I know that there are horror movies out there with female villains helming them (Voorhees, party of EEK!), but Amanda Young was more than just a one-time thing. She was chosen. She was groomed. She was tested. She could have been a contender. If only those screws hadn’t come quite so loose. I’m even willing to admit that, had she not gone so off-the-rails mentally and not died as a result, I might have been tempted to watch the fourth movie, just to see which psychotic killer off-ramp she’d fly down next.

And just as Kevin Williamson gave glorious feminist twists to his final girl dynamic duo, Whannell and Bousman give an equally intriguing feminist twist by changing the typical horror dynamic, especially for these types of movies. After all, why do you think there are so many final girls? It’s because horror has for too long embraced the violence against women trope. Again, I love the genre, but I acknowledge that it’s got a long history of awful when it comes to things like this. The final girl exists in some ways almost as a placation. “Yeah, we killed a bunch of girls in horrible, exploitative ways…but some of their boyfriends died, too (usually in really fast, less-than-graphic ways)! AND LOOK! We let a girl defeat the bad guy and survive! That makes it all better!”

Does it? I’m not so sure. Does a movie like Saw make it any better than the final girl alternative? Now, it’s not the male antagonist against the young female protagonist. It’s the young female antagonist against…everyone.

EOV. Equal-Opportunity Villainess.

Still, however I might feel about the character or the franchise from which she sprung, I give credit where it is earned. By becoming one of the slasher elite (and doing it with insane style), Amanda Young has earned her place as a Lady of Horror May-hem.

Oh and by the way, no you aren’t seeing double, denizens. Amanda Young does look remarkably similar to Meg Penny.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Sidney Prescott


The gods of randomocity must have sensed my eagerness for this particular draw (either that or they’ve been reading my blog this month and noticed that I keep referring to her, even in posts that have nothing to do with her at all, and they just want me to shut up already).

For all the horror movies that I have watched throughout my illustrious lifelong love of the genre, I keep returning to the greatness, IMHO, of director Wes Craven’s Scream and heroine Sidney Prescott, as played by Neve Campbell.

True, there are myriad horror movies that are very obvious in their meritorious contributions to the genre. Then there are those movies that, on first blush, seem like nothing more than standard cheese-supreme slasher flicks. For every Exorcist there’s 15 Frankenhookers.

[Loba Tangent: Okay, there’s only one Frankenhooker…I don’t think the world is ready for more than one. WANNA DATE?]

Many, myself included, expected Scream to be one of the latter types of horror movie. I figured it was going to be a fun way to spend a couple of hours, watching Craven’s latest foray into horror schlock (he’d come a long way since his Elm Street days…and some of that distance was through utter shite, to borrow a Britishism).

What I experienced, instead, was a revival on so many levels. First, Craven was back on-point. This movie was fun and sharp and scary, with a soup

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Laurie Strode


If ever there was a case for hazard pay for babysitters, then Laurie Strode would be the star witness. She’d also make a great case for why working on holidays warrants at least time and a half.

[Loba Tangent: Do not even remotely think about mentioning any remake to me in this instance. I have written all I need to about that cinematic abortion.]

As I already mentioned, even though Jess Bradford started the slasher movie “final girl” trope, Laurie Strode, as portrayed by Jamie Lee Curtis in director John Carpenter’s Halloween, became the standard by starring in the more popular slasher movie…thus confirming the home truth that it’s not about being qualified…it’s about being the most liked.

Life Lesson #345,634,905 From Horror.

That’s not to say that Laurie isn’t qualified as a Lady of Horror May-hem. Quite the opposite. She proves herself repeatedly as a survivor by virtue of many things…including, well, her virtue. Although John Carpenter has repeatedly denied that his intention was ever to present a puritanical notion that only the “good” girls survive while the naughty girls become slasher bait, the fact remains that by becoming the example against whom all following slasher movie heroines would be compared, our virginal, nebbishy Laurie cast a mold from which final girls didn’t break free for almost 20 years.

[Loba Tangent: Oh, but I hope I draw that name before this month is over…]

Focusing on Laurie’s sexual activity (or lack, thereof), regardless of the reasons, always seemed misogynistic to me. What does it matter what uglies she and her friends are bumping? It’s as ridiculous as the 70s/80s horror movie “rule” that demanded at least one gratuitous boob shot. Because titillation.

Thankfully, horror has become a little more sophisticated in some ways (although it has a long way to go to really be more inclusive). Our final girls don’t have to be pure as the driven snow anymore. They just have to be smart under pressure.

That all being said, Laurie definitely does keep her wits through one of the most helacious Halloween nights ever. Even better? Her weapon of choice at one point? Knitting needless. Hard-core, betches. Hard. Core.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Nancy Thompson


Ah, Freddy Krueger. The man, the myth, the legend…who had his fire-scarred ass handed to him four times by two of the lovely ladies to grace this month of May-hem (five times if you count New Nightmare). While our intrepid Alice Johnson was able to defeat Freddy through the powers she gained each time he killed one of her friends and family, the original final girl of Elm Street did it all with nothing more than her wits and sheer determination to survive.

[Loba Tangent: Spoilers ahoy, denizens.]

Nancy Thompson, as played by Heather Langenkamp, starts out in director Wes Craven’s slasher classic A Nightmare on Elm Street as the average all-American teen, with a best friend, a boyfriend who looks like Johnny Depp, and an idyllic suburban life with a broken home and an alcoholic mother. And the dreams in which she is haunted by a horribly scarred man with knives for fingers.

Soon she learns that she’s not the only one dreaming this hideous nightmare. Everyone in her little clique is dreaming the same guy, the same dream, every night. I’ve heard of group psychosis before, but group nightmares? Something’s rotten on Elm Street, Horatio.

All that was once, perhaps not perfect, but at least manageable…understandable leaps out the uppermost window as Nancy finds herself faced with a horrible truth about why this crazy striped-sweater freak is offing all the Elm Street kids and she starts losing everything. But once that happens, that’s when young Nancy proves herself to be a worthy final girl, as she takes into her own hands a one-woman rescue mission in which she’s either going to prove herself right about what’s been happening to her and her friends, or prove she’s gone completely around the bend.

What makes Nancy so remarkable is that she came across as believable. I believed that she was a confused high school student being faced with some incredibly unbelievable events. Her mother thought she was going crazy and her father was at a total loss as to how even as the sheriff of the town, he was failing to protect her from something he couldn’t even believe in.

Regardless, Nancy has faith in herself…and in the booby traps she learned to make thanks to a book she finds at the library. Come on, of course I’m going to love her! She’s a book nerd commando! And you know what? She gets her man. Literally. This is what makes Nancy the most bad-ass teen in town. She rips the villain right out of her dreams so that he has to face her in reality rather than where he is most powerful. And she then proceeds to make demands of him and tell him that she’s taking back all the power that he’s stolen from her and her friends. AND THEN SHE TURNS HER BACK ON HIM AND WALKS AWAY.

It doesn’t get much more bad-ass than that, denizens.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Ellen Ripley


From Eli to Ellen, and from the bitter cold of the undead in Sweden to the bitter cold of aliens in space as we take a closer look at Ellen Ripley, the unintended heroine played by Sigourney Weaver in director Ridley Scott’s space horror masterpiece Alien.

[Loba Tangent: I simply wanted to acknowledge that this is the first time I’ve drawn a name and been keenly aware of the placement of the character in the hierarchy of May-hem, which still exists even though I have tried to eliminate it by using random chance to determine each entry.]

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Ripley. Of course, I love her. She might not be the first “final girl,” but she’s one of the ultimate, not only surviving the infiltration of ship and crew by one of the most disturbing alien designs ever to slither from the darkness of someone’s imagination (thank you now and forever, Mr. Giger), but defeating said monster all on her own (minus the cat, of course).

The hate isn’t necessarily for Ripley but instead for the truth behind Ripley. Ripley, who so many, myself included, consider to be the ultimate queen bee when it comes to discussing women of horror. Only Ripley was not originally intended to be a woman. Ripley was written as a male character. Although she helped pave the way for so many strong female characters to follow, from horror to sci-fi to fantasy worlds, I have such a difficult time dealing with the fact that she started as a man.

In fact, all the characters were originally written as men, although I’ve read that screenwriter Dan O’Bannon indicated that they all could be considered unisex when it came to casting. Even that revelation speaks volumes to me, though, that O’Bannon preferred to write from a completely neutral position rather than try to figure out how to write to a particular gender for his characters. (Of course, by writing from this gender-neutral perspective, we’re spared any of the gender-specific claptrap of the sequel, usually in the form of insults thrown at the rather butch Vasquez or in the need to maternalize Ripley…or, even worse, in the sequel’s tagline, “The bitch is back,” which was supposed to be even more amusing because, haha, which bitch? Ripley or the alien? Haha.)

Although, in regard to examining how this film deals with horror movie tropes, opting to envision the entire crew (or, as it ended up, the majority) as male, going up against an alien species that attacked and procreated in such a sexually violating manner, one could argue that O’Bannon essentially turned the rape-revenge trope completely on its ear. He also stood in opposition of the average horror movie’s thematic exploitation of female characters at the hands of the villain. Minus her scenes in what could be the tiniest company-issued undies in the history of the universe, Ripley is never intentionally exploited based on her gender.

Is this a byproduct of originally existing as a male character? Would things have been different had Ripley started out as a woman? I don’t really know…and I guess this is what bothers me the most. I suppose it shouldn’t though since, regardless of how it all began, how it ended gave us one of the most amazing horror heroines ever. There is no denying the fact that Ripley has been the inspiration for so many genre heroines who were equally well-conceived and female right from their inception, so her ultimate existence as a woman guarantees her a place in any discussion of what it means to be an ass-kicking Lady of Horror May-hem.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Eli


Looks like we’re on a bit of a one-name streak here, eh? Also, it’s our third appearance by a vampire with Eli, the ageless young lass played by Lina Leandersson in director Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In.

Truth is, Eli might actually be upset by her appearance on this list. After all, she does tell her infatuated new friend and neighbor Oskar that she is not a girl.

And thus begin serious spoilers for the novel on which this movie is based…plus a nice bit of proof that sometimes a book and its movie can be utterly different but equally enjoyable beasts. I call this the Blade Runner effect.

In John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel (and in one confusingly brief scene in the movie) it is acknowledged that Eli truly is not a girl. She was once a young boy named Elias, but the vampire who turned him centuries before castrated him. That’s all that I’m going to ruin from the novel.

For the film adaptation, Lindqvist and Alfredson decided to go with portraying Eli as a young woman and, in the end, removing most of hir backstory (minus that one scene I mentioned briefly in the previous paragraph). Instead, what we see are two lonely, different people, Oskar and Eli, letting each other in to the other’s life, with unanticipatedly satisfying results.

I include Eli in this month’s list because she again represents what I love about vampires. True, she shows compassion and kindness to Oskar, but she is also a killer at her undead core. She sometimes comes across feral, her permanently child-sized body hiding a ferocious strength and a mind sharpened by years as a predatory creature (as opposed to her “guardian,” whose hunting skills have obviously been declining with his age).

The thing I love most about Eli? Early in the film, Oskar notes that she has a peculiar smell, which Eli asks him to detect upon their next meeting…after she has fed. I’ve had this opinion for a while now that vampires must stink of rot when they haven’t fed for a while. After all, they are permanently stuck in a limbo between life and death, their once-mortal bodies now needing constant tending through the blood of the living. Without that fresh nutrient, decay will set in. They still won’t die, but decomposition is literally a neck puncture away.

That kind of existence has gotta stink. Also, their breath must reek of iron…but that’s a different discussion.

I love the fact that Lindqvist and Alfredson address the fact that young Eli smells. Even though Oskar doesn’t know exactly what he’s smelling, I’m going to believe that it’s the stink of death.

Eli is brilliant and brutal, and her motives for letting Oskar in beg for questioning and examination and interpretation on many levels. She will eternally look like a child, but within her is the spirit of a cunning survivalist, willing to do whatever it takes to continue to exist. However this colors her new relationship with Oskar, there is no doubting that these two have found fulfillment in each other in oddly comforting ways. What it will mean later, especially for the currently mortal Oskar, is also up for speculation, but rest assured, in this instance, he has indeed let the right one in.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Theodora


Here we have another grand dame of the horror genre who can rightfully get away with one name, thank you. Meet Theodora…just Theodora, the avant-garde clairvoyant portrayed by Claire Bloom in director Robert Wise’s 1963 haunted house classic The Haunting.

[Loba Tangent: I know that I have rarely made reference to remakes of many of the movies mentioned in this month’s series, but I’m going to make an explicit exception with this movie. Please, please, please, for the love of everything holy in this horror-loving world, do not watch the remake of this film. It is so terrible that calling it an abomination would be a compliment. Saying that it sucked would be kind. Please. I beg of you. Don’t watch it.]

Again, many lists of horror heroines will include the primary female from this film

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Sadako Yamamura


Want to know how to be heart-stoppingly frightening without ever uttering a word? Look no further than Sadako Yamamura, the young woman of immeasurable power and fury in director Hideo Nakata’s Ringu.

I have already attributed my run-in with Asami Yamazaki as what started me on my Asian horror kick a few years ago. It was a recent re-watching of director Gore Verbinski’s American remake of Ringu that sort of re-sparked this interest and finally urged me to watch the original Japanese version. I have to admit that this was one of those rare instances in which I believe the remake…perhaps isn’t better than the original, but speaks to my Western sensibilities a bit more effectively than the original did.

That being said, when I continued to mull over the original movie, considering its impact based on its 1998 release year, I came to the conclusion that Sadako Yamamura probably would have had me curled into a neat little ball, had I seen this movie when it first came out. As it was, the visuals within the American remake freaked me out so badly that I didn’t revisit it for more than a decade.

Sadako, however, is a stunning example of how many Asian horror directors know how to pervert normal human movement in ways that burn into your brain, only to resurface at the most inopportune times. Like right when you’re trying to fall asleep. Or you need to get something out of a dark closet. Or when you’re alone at night and you need to walk through the room where the television is located…but you just can’t get that image out of your head.

Beyond her visual presence, let’s not forget that Sadako possesses a power so frightening that it defies death…and feeds a rage that can drop you like a bird hit by buckshot. While I admittedly have questions regarding some of her powers and how they manifest themselves, I cannot deny the fact that she is right up there with the likes of Carrie White when it comes to warnings against picking on those who are…differently wired.

Sadako also stands in line with my ongoing belief that sometimes what you don’t see is way more frightening than what you do see. While her American counterpart Samara Morgan came decked out in some rather impressive practical makeup and CGI flash, Sadako’s final appearance is rattling in the starkness of what she reveals. Broken, bloodied nails. Long damask of sable hair that shows nothing of her face. But that eye. That. Eye.

Edgar Allan Poe would have freaked had he seen this movie (literature nerd holla!).

I’m actually going to do something now that I’ve been avoiding up to this point with previous entries, simply because I could have wasted hours looking up video clips on YouTube for my previous ladies. However, I’m going to make an exception for Sadako, because I think it’s worth it to see just what I mean. With some amazing articulation, backward filming, and creative cuts, Sadako’s arrival is one you’d be sure to remember…at least for as long as you’ll have left once she’s finished with you.