We’re going to make a bold statement: Horror movies depend on women. Ever since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein first hit the silver screen in 1931, female writers, actors, and directors have been shaping and defining the genre. That said, horror movies often fall short of feminist expectations. As Sidney Prescott famously remarks in Scream, plot lines for female characters tend to follow a similar trajectory: “Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door,” she scoffs. “It’s insulting.”
She was onto something. For badass modern ladies, the one-dimensional damsel in distress act is simply passé. With that in mind, we rounded up 13 scare-your-pants-off films that pass the Bechdel Test (i.e. contain at least two female characters who have a conversation about someting other than a man)—because committed girl bosses deserve their thrills and chills, too.
1. EVIL DEAD
Sam Raimi’s 2013 adaptation of Evil Dead breathes new life (or should we say death?) into the 1981 original. Accompanied by her brother and a few friends, recovering addict Mia ventures to a cabin in the woods to quit heroin cold turkey. When the group stumbles across a Book of the Dead in the basement, they unwittingly release a demonic spirit. In this ultra-gory modern cult classic, the agony of withdrawal becomes a real and all-consuming evil.
2. THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL
This ‘80s throwback flick is fit for any hipster. It centers around a college sophomore named Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) who is hired for a mysterious babysitting gig by a couple, then arrives at their Victorian mansion in the woods only to learn that instead she’ll be caring for one of their super-creepy ailing mothers.
3. A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT
This black-and-white western follows a lonely vampire that preys on bad men but also falls for a local gardener with James Dean-esque good looks. Moody and at times subversive, this bloodthirsty ode to film noir will haunt you for weeks.
4. THE WITCH
In this terrifying period piece, a family living in a 17th-century New England colony is forced to start a new life on the edge of a forest. The area is supposedly haunted, and when things go south on the plantation, the parents accuse their daughter of witchcraft.
5. THE CRAFT
The Craft follows a coterie of teen witch outcasts as they exact revenge on their enemies while sporting the best of ‘90s goth fashion. Spells are cast, Neve Campbell co-stars, and a racist is punished—what’s not to love?
6. AMERICAN MARY
How far would you go for some easy money? That's the question at the crux of this Canadian horror film. Desperate to stay in medical school, aspiring surgeon Mary Mason starts answering adult classified ads to make some dough on the side. One leads her to the bowels of a seedy night club, where she discovers the twisted and lucrative world of body modification.
Don't let the title fool you; this Chinese horror film is terrifying. It focuses on an aging actress with a cheating husband who yearns to recapture her youthful beauty and vigor. Enlisted to help, a local chef offers up one of her special recipes: rejuvenation dumplings. The not-so-secret ingredient? Fetuses.
No list of feminist horror flicks would be complete without Carrie—specifically the 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s infamous novel of the same name. Relentlessly bullied by her classmates and her devoutly religious mother, 17-year-old Carrie White is the epitome of teenage misery. After an embarrassing incident at school pushes her to the brink of sanity, her supernatural powers are unleashed, to a deliciously devastating effect.
9. CRIMSON PEAK
Set in 1887, Crimson Peak is a gothic romance starring Mia Wasikowska as Edith, a girl haunted by ghostly visions. Having just moved into her new husband’s decaying family mansion, she quickly realizes the house not only has dark secrets, but also dark forces at play.
10. THE INNKEEPERS
In this 2011 horror film, two intrepid employees set out to prove the storied Yankee Pedlar Inn is haunted, before it closes permanently. Armed with EVP recording equipment, the pair roam the halls in hot pursuit of unseen guests, including the vengeful ghost bride Madeline O’Malley. They certainly find her, in all her ghastly glory. TBD if they survive the shock.
Shot in vibrant shades of neon, Suspiria is a vintage horror classic from the masterful Italian director Dario Argento, in which an American ballerina flies to Germany to study at a prestigious dance academy...run by witches.
12. THE DESCENT
The Descent follows six women who go spelunking on their yearly outdoors adventure, not realizing that the uncharted cave they’ve chosen to explore is haunted by flesh-eating terrors. Unable to turn back, they plunge deeper into the claustrophobic cavern—and deeper into madness—in search of an escape.
13. THE BABADOOK
After a disturbing children’s book shows up on their shelf, a mother and her troubled son become terrorized by a disguised figure called The Babadook. Growing stronger despite their fierce denial, the monster gradually drains both of them of their sleep and rationality, fraying the edges of their sanity over the course of 92 minutes. This film is grueling but never gruesome.