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: 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 soupçon of cheese to make it even tastier to the palate. Second, this movie introduced screenwriter Kevin Williamson to my world and, for good (this movie) and bad (almost everything else other than this movie), he altered the horror scene irrevocably. While obviously loving and admiring so many of the great aspects of horror, he was able to objectively pinpoint the problems intrinsic to the genre and dissolve them in high horrific style.

And then there’s Sidney.

I’ve already mentioned so many of the fantastic final girls to grace the genre before Sidney arrived. Just like Laurie, Nancy, Jess, Kirsty, Meg, and myriad others, we at first think that Sidney is just another all-American high school girl, wanting nothing more than to make it through another week of tests and class projects before spending quality time with her boyfriend who looks strangely like Johnny Depp and her small group of BFFs.

The twist that Williamson springs on us, however, is that Sidney already is a survivor. She’s gone through a rather brutal year that has obliterated any semblance of normalcy. Now, she just wants to make it through the week without running into the likes of intrepid sensationalist reporter Gale Weathers. Or having to testify against the man she saw leaving her house…we’re left to assume right before young Sidney discovered something that no teenager should ever have to discover.

Sorry, Sidney. The fates just aren’t in your corner this year.

The other delightful twist that Williamson gifts young Sidney is the acknowledgement and subsequent dismissal of that oft-referenced “virginal survival” trope made so famous by Laurie Strode. No, not all final girls after Laurie had to be virgins…but it sure did seem that way. The message, of course, constantly coming across that to survive, you must be good. Naughty girls are only around for two things: boob shots and slasher bait.

Oh, horror, I love you so, but you really are a pig sometimes.

By granting Sidney the right to be sexually active and a final girl, Williamson completely upends this horror trope and injects a bit of feminism right into the genre’s ass. Even more poignantly, he allows Sidney the right to destroy the misogyny that tried to destroy her. Poor Billy boyfriend, doesn’t stand a chance when all he’s got on his side is whiny entitlement and a stupid best friend.

I know, I’ve written more about this particular character than I’ve probably written about any other this month. I acknowledge that Sidney would not have existed were it not for several others to precede her, both this month’s series and in their respective movies. But Sidney takes full advantage of the trail-blazing that those horror heroines did for her and she veers off into her own unique direction. She personifies the best of her predecessors and she presents her own complex qualities that make her one of my all-time favorite Ladies of Horror May-hem.

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: 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: 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.


Ladies of Horror May-hem: Clara Webb


Just when I thought that my belovedly sinister vampires were gone for good, director Neil Jordan comes in and saves them from the brink of sparkly doom with his brilliant 2012 film Byzantium. It’s only befitting that Jordan would save the species for me. He is, after all, the one who gifted me the gloriously campy cruelty I also love in vampires, with his 1994 movie adaptation of Interview with the Vampire.

At first blush, you might think that the focus of this story is on Eleanor Webb, the mysterious young woman who writes her story a thousand times over, only to destroy it as she goes along. It’s a tale she cannot tell, for its revelation will come at an expensive price to her and her mother Clara. To be fair, in many ways, this is Eleanor’s story. But to understand her story, we must understand the one who penned its beginning in the very blood that flows through both their veins.

In light of recent posts on other Ladies of Horror May-hem, I would liken Clara, as portrayed by Gemma Arterton, to a combination of Gale Weathers’ opportunistic drive, filtered through the maternal ferocity of Pamela Voorhees. She is raw and pitiless, forged by brutalities etched into her skin from places and people we will never have the opportunity to understand. They have long passed from this existence, but Clara continues, her life line knowing no natural end thanks to her own elemental sagacity.

Eleanor, who possesses a surprisingly compassionate soul in light of what she is, is the antithesis of Clara in almost every way. Her porcelain fragility and cultured mannerisms and speech amplify Clara’s coarse flamboyance, her lower-class vulgarity, the physicality, both sexual and ferocious, of everything she does. However negatively Clara might come across in comparison to Eleanor, you realize quickly that it is this way because of Clara’s fierceness. She has spent a series of lifetimes granting her daughter every opportunity possible, protecting her from every harm and threat…her penance for failing her once. Only once. But the penance she pays for that failure is far greater than even Eleanor can understand.

Just writing about Clara makes me even more appreciative of her brilliant complexity, and makes me wish I had this movie in my collection now so that I could view it again ASAP. It’s been far too long since I was excited by a vampire tale. I relish the feeling.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Gale Weathers


And here we have another often overlooked Lady of Horror May-hem…and an even greater counterpoint to the previous two maternal mistresses of mayhem.

Whenever someone comes up with a list of top-notch horror movie female characters, you can bet your Edvard Munch mask that Sidney Prescott, the reluctant final girl from director Wes Craven’s Scream movies, will be included (and rightfully so). However, I can’t help but notice that I’ve never seen one of these lists give kudos to the other final girl from these movies…the one who apparently is sharing those nine lives that Sidney keeps tearing her way through (between the two of them, they’ve now used up eight lives…wonder what this will mean for Scream 5?).

I love Gale Weathers for a variety of reasons, from the fact that she’s played by Courteney Cox (who will always have a special place en mi corazon) right down to the fact that she is unabashed in her desires and her drive, and she makes no apologies for either. Gale Weathers is not interested in being the stereotypical virginal, placating female so often seen fit to survive pre-Scream horror movies. She is not there to comfort you. If you piss her off or slow her down, then she’s going to rip you like you’ve never been ripped before. She is not there to be your friend, and even if she does let you in, she has no qualm using you as a stepping stone if she sees the chance to rise. She does not shy away from using whatever is at her disposal to get the information she needs to put her ahead of her competitors. She is pure in her opportunism, the only attribute she holds above all else, even justice (“Do you know what that would do for my book sales?!”). However, she also navigates by an internal indebtedness that is the closest she comes to loyalty, especially when it comes to Sidney.

Unlike Sidney, however, Gale is not reluctant to embrace her part in the events transpiring around them, plowing straight into the heart of situations that most would want to avoid. Whatever it takes to get the scoop. It’s no wonder that she is the one standing right next to Sidney so many times in that final reel (spoiler!). Both she and Sidney, in fact, flip a hearty double middle-fingered salute to the dated horror tropes of what it means to be a final girl.

In many ways, Gale owes a lot to predecessors such as The Howling’s Karen White or Hellraiser III’s Joey Summerskill, other reporter grrls who put their fear on the back burner in pursuit of that shot of truth their systems craved. Gale has evolved throughout the franchise, but at her heart, she remains devoted to uncovering the last vestige of truth, no matter the peril.

Also, she rocks highlights like no one’s business.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Pamela Voorhees


Never step between a mother bear and her cubs, and never ever fail to keep watch of a mother’s son, especially when that son is Jason Voorhees.

As pretty much most people who are even casual horror fans know (thank you, Kevin Williamson), the first killer who lit off the Friday the 13th franchise that would stretch for more than two decades was not our hockey-masked machete man Jason…but his loving mother Pamela.

Mrs. Voorhees, as played with disquieting perfection by Betsy Palmer, rained vengeance down in buckets upon our intrepid young camp counselors (the wrong ones at that, but I don’t really think she cared by that point) in retaliation for the failures of horny teens to keep her special boy safe, instead paying more attention to their own natural lust (which always seems to be the undoing of so many slasher movie victims; who knew fellow mother of mayhem Margaret White was the one funding all those teen slashers?).

Even though Mrs. Voorhees didn’t survive that first movie, she set the stage for son Jason to cleave his way through woods and more, ending up in far-flung places like New York City and…yes, even space. And, really, isn’t that all that parents want? For their children to have satisfying careers that take them unique and exciting places? Well done, Mrs. Voorhees. Jason would have made you very proud.

Ladies of Horror May-hem: Barbara


Just like Madonna and Cher need go by only one name among music fans, today’s Lady of Horror May-hem is a one-name wonder in her own right. She is Barbara, the reluctant heroine of that fateful Night of the Living Dead.

I’m not going to say a whole lot about Barbara, as portrayed in the 1990 Tom Savini remake by actress/stuntwoman Patricia Tallman. If you’ve been a regular visitor here at the lair, then you already know my deep love for both this remake and for Tallman. In fact, I’ve previously written of this movie reinvention of this character:

…it dramatically improves upon the character of Barbara, giving her far more modern sensibilities and turning her into a right and proper bad-ass. I’m not saying the remake makes her a better character, but it makes her a character I’d follow into the zombie apocalypse.

Indeed, in ways similar to how The Blob remake altered the original movie, in part, by switching up the hero to feisty young heroine Meg Penny, Savini’s NOTLD remake completely alters the flow of the original movie by reversing course for the originally weak, hysterical Barbara. Just as she sheds the mousy plainness of her physical attire for the practical fighting gear of boots and denim and weapons, so does Barbara shed her weeping and binding fear for a primal, detached drive for survival at all cost. This Barbara will not lie down and be dinner tartare for the zombie jamboree, and the more she witnesses of the undead’s atrocities, the more steadied her resolve becomes.

Yes, they’re still coming to get Barbara…but this time, they’re going to get way more than they bargained for…