Women in Horror: Badasses

Yeah yeah, valentine’s day, love and stuff, etc etc etc. But what about those ladies that make our hearts suffer palpitations? What about those books and films that feature women that might actually rip your heart out or have to fight to keep their own organs in their chests?

So now that we’ve talked about those awesome crazy ladies, it’s time to talk about another group of women in the horror genre: badasses. Now here’s the thing. There were a lot of women I could have considered, especially given the slasher genre. I had to think long and hard as to whether I would include a lot of the final girls, or girls that lasted more than two movies in a franchise, or what. Here’s my thing: it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a lot of those movies, and although I can’t argue that some of those gals are pretty cool, I’m also trying to take a look at characters who aren’t just cool because they manage to stay alive. I mean I like staying alive, myself, but I really wanted to focus on the girls that are somewhat aggressive (in various ways) in their titles. I guess to a certain degree you could argue that all of them are reactionary to a point, too, but to me these girls don’t just exist to be reactionary or to be the final girl. You end up either learning about them and cheering or learning about them and shuddering. Sometimes both. So, without further delay, here is my list of female badasses in the horror genre.


Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise – There is one thing to stay alive because you’re suddenly faced with something stalking you, but there’s something about Ripley that puts her above the whole final girl cliche. Not only is she incredibly tough and determined, she also has a lot of other things to deal with besides kicking alien butt. Think about it: she’s time and again betrayed and used by corporations who want to exploit the very thing that’s tried to repeatedly kill her. She finds out that while she was in stasis that her daughter has died – no wonder she’s so intent on keeping the little girl safe in Aliens. And then there’s the whole thing where she finds out the Alien queen is inside her, so she decides to sacrifice herself to keep the thing from causing more havoc. And since I just pretend the whole Alien Ressurection thing didn’t happen, we’ll just leave it there. But seriously, Ripley’s existence becomes a horrible pattern of killing aliens, surviving, being put into stasis, and dealing with emotional trauma. And yet she manages to go after the threats without completely breaking down, and manages to stick it to the corporation who wants to use her for nefarious purposes. This was probably one of the first horror movie series I accidentally saw as a kid (back when versions were aired on TV…something I’m sure my parents appreciated). You know, it never occurred to me that Ripley was a woman…of course a woman could go around saving people and defeating the aliens! Why shouldn’t she? I’d say that experience has definitely stayed with me, especially in my creative life.

Sonja Blue from the Nancy A. Collins books – As much as some of the graphic contents makes me shudder, I love love LOVE Sonja. Hers is an epic story of how a naive socialite is nearly killed by a vampire (among other things), yet she survives. That’s unheard of in that world. She not only survives being victimized and nearly killed, but she slowly grows into her powers and becomes a tough as nails slayer – all the while battling her own vampire self , who loves spreading mayhem and destruction. Emotionally she has to deal with the fact that her past is pretty much dead to her – the scenes where she remembers her past life and interacts with her parents are heartbreaking. She also has to deal with different love interests and what it really means for a vampire to have feelings for mortals. She goes through Renfield-types, guys who mean well, guys who can fight…you name it, it blows up in her face, either because of her own nature or the world she’s a part of. And through it all she’s intent on tracking her maker down and destroying him. She steps in and helps mortals who are preyed on by supernatural creatures in hiding, all while handling emotional and mental experiences that would probably push anyone else over the edge. A furious vampire fighter with a really interesting delicate side and an even more interesting psychotic side, she is one of the best tough characters in horror there is, male or female.

Clarice Starling from Silence of the Lambs – A small town girl who overcomes a tough upbringing to become an FBI agent. Not only that, but she has to go up against one of horror’s most notorious serial killers again and again. Not only does she manage to get Lecter to help her deduce Buffalo Bill’s location, but she also gains enough of his respect that he doesn’t kill her when he escapes. Plus, she also kills Buffalo Bill. In Hannibal she not only has to deal with superiors trying to put her career to a screeching halt, but is involved in a complex cat and mouse game trying to not only find Lecter, but also the killer that hunts him. She not only helps to save Lecter from a grisly fate, but ends up surviving his attempts at conditioning her in the aftermath (in the book). In the movie version of Hannibal, she’s respected enough by Lecter that he maims himself to escape at the end of the film rather than her. Granted, she’s a quieter kind of badass, but you have to think of the kind of steel you’d have to have to continually talk to a killer like Lecter – especially once he’s escaped. Sticking to your guns and even trying to help him takes a whole lot of grit. Even without that, she deals with a lot of crap from her superiors and fellow agents in Hannibal. And if you really want to think about what kind of a strong woman she is, think of this – in the book version of Hannibal, they actually become lovers. And she’s seen alive with him three years after the fact. So obviously there’s something to her if she can stay alive and earn that kind of admiration from Hannibal freakin’ Lecter. Whether you agree with that ending or not, she’s obviously smart enough to figure out complex situations, strong enough to hold her own, and gritty enough to stand up to or take part in terrifying people and situations.

Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer  – This one is pretty obvious. I mean this is a teen girl kicking undead butt repeatedly, plus trying to juggle it with her own emotions and her regular daily life.  Granted, she’s definitely more badass in the TV series than the film, but you have to admit that just the mere concept of her character is pretty freakin’ bold compared to other teenage girl characters in horror. In the series she battles not only demons and the undead, but sometimes friends and family dynamic, as well as the whole dealing with various forces of darkness thing. It’s a really interesting character and a really fascinating take on not only subverting a horror cliche, but on what it means to be a young woman faced with that kind of heavy responsibility as a whole.

Laurie Strode from the Halloween franchise – All right, I’ll give you one slasher franchise.  Not only does she fight back in fairly ingenious ways, but she has to come to grips with the fact that she’s related to the guy who tried to kill her. Not only that, but in H20 she’s determined to finish the job that she didn’t do the first time around. In the remake, it’s also fascinating that she has the same psychotic tendencies as her brother, and has them slowly come more and more to light as the movie goes along. There’s obviously something to her because she’s brought back time and again not only in the movies, but in the comic continuations.

Carmilla from Carmilla – Granted, she’s not mutilating bad guys or tearing apart victims right and left, but there’s something to be said for a really manipulative vampire that masquerades as a young girl. She obviously lets her more primal instincts guide her,  but is smart enough to pull off a fiendish con that gets her new victims. Plus, she’s bold enough to befriend young female friends before attempting to prey on them, right in the same house as their parents. She’s decidedly old school, but cunning and creepy in her own right.

Pearl from American Vampire – She starts off as an idealistic girl who wants to be a star, but after nearly being fed to a group of elite Hollywood vampire goons, she’s saved and turned by vampire outlaw Skinner Sweet. I like Pearl because not only does she retain her likability – she’s very loyal to her human husband and protective about their vulnerability to other vampires and slayers – but she will also get her hands dirty when she has to. Whether it’s fighting off her former friend, facing down a group of prohibition-era human blood runners who attempt to drain her husband to feed vamps, or the WWII-era creatures that attack her husband while he’s in service…she is a force to be reckoned with. She has a unique set of killing abilities and is just as lethal as her sire. What’s also interesting is that although there’s obviously some attraction to Skinner, she remains loyal to her husband and is eventually the one to finally get the best of the notorious outlaw. I also really like that she’s depicted in her vamp form in no uncertain terms. So often artists try to draw female vamps as uber sexy, even in monster form, but she looks like an utter nightmare and a killing machine. Plus, in her human form she’s not unattractive, but she’s not the buxom bombshell we’re used to equating with female vamp. It’s refreshing – everything about her character is refreshing, and although it looks like vol. 3 is the last of the series, I’d love to read more of her adventures

Death from the Sandman series – I love this interpretation of this character. She’s not the intimidating figure of Death that we’re used to seeing, but there’s something about her that’s just as strong. Sure, she acts the big sister to Dream and other members of the Endless, sure, she’s a lot of fun through a lot of the series, but when she has to be serious, she definitely means business. She’s willing to keep doing her job through all eternity, and for the most part isn’t really bothered by it. And she’s also willing to put Dream in his place – something that would mean dire consequences for most people or immortals. Let’s not forget that in the first volume it was HER that the cultists were trying to capture and not her brother – and Dream explicitly states that they’re very lucky they got him instead.

Jessica from The Crossing by Joe McKinney – As soon as I started reading the book, I was sucked in and intrigued by this character. She’s a stark contrast to the narrator: she lives in the infected zone, so she not only has to keep on the run from zombies, but she has to deal with the elements, survival, plus the fact that she’s a woman. While trying to find coyotes (people who help those in the infected zone into safe territory), she’s nearly subjected to some awful behavior at the hands of some really deplorable guys. While the narrator panics, she coolly dispatches them. You can tell that the whole of her experiences in the zone have affected her because she’s so capable at surviving. What really puts her over the edge into this category is not just that she’s smart, strong, and fast, but ultimately what she chooses to do once she crosses back into the rest of the United States. Never has the phrase you can’t go home again ever been so ominous, yet she makes her decision and accepts it as readily as she’s done everything else throughout the book.

While I will admit that you have to do more to just survive to be on this list, I like a lot of these entries because they manage to deal with not only the horrors their fighting against, but also every day atrocities. Ellen Ripley is a mother faced with loss. Clarice Starling has to deal with something of a glass ceiling and job politics. Buffy has her calling and her daily life. Pearl is determined to stay with her husband and remain in love even though it’s a very dangerous prospect. Jessica deals with not only the hardships of survival, does it doubly so because of her gender, but ultimately does the bravest action in the whole damn book. Sonja Blue has to face every aspect of her old life vs.the horrors and complexities of her new life, plus the looming of her vampire part of her mind she calls The Other. Whether their actions are overt or subtle, manipulative or tough as nails, these gals are not messing around.

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