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15 Underrated Women and Girls in Horror

Women’s History Month is coming to a close and there’s no better way to wrap things up than by celebrating a few bold and brilliant characters. Women and girls have been making a statement in film since its inception across different genres. However, the history of female characters in horror has been a muddied one, with annoying tropes that place them on the fringes of the narrative in neat boxes. Thankfully, there have been quite a few iconic horror queens who broke the mold and became templates for how women should be represented in the genre. We instantly recognize names like Laurie Strode and Nancy Thompson, but there are countless other underrated women and girls in horror that deserve a lot of love.

There are far too many to name because the genre is so expansive with decades of mainstream and indie films, but the following characters are our picks to cap off Women’s History Month with a horror celebration. Here are 15 underrated women and girls in horror films.

Lestat bites Akasha's arm

Warner Bros. 

Akasha from Queen of the Damned

Akasha, the Egyptian progenitor of all vampires, is the total antagonist package. She’s sexy, terrifying, calculating, authoritative, and violent. Her single mission is to find Lestat (who’s more interested in being a rock star) so they can take over the world. The late, great Aaliyah brings a seductive and calculating energy to Queen of the Damned, and, frankly, it’s refreshing to see a Black woman as an all-powerful being in a dark tale.

Three women hold flashlights in a cave

Celador Films

The Women of The Descent

This absolutely horrifying 2005 British horror film features not one but six women leads whose trip into an Appalachian cave turns into a nightmare. Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza), Beth (Alex Reid), Sam (MyAnna Buring), Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), and Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) are far away from help and being hunted by a pack of bloodthirsty humanoid creatures.

But they aren’t anyone’s damsels in distress, props for male heroes, or simple eye candy to distract from gore. These ladies are fully realized characters with distinct personalities, motivations, and reactions to this unthinkable situation. It’s rare to see a horror film with an all-women cast and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Asamai holds needle wearing gloves

Creators Company Connection

Asami from Audition

Asami’s true nature unravels in slow motion throughout Audition. At first, she’s a talented woman with quiet confidence who catches the eye of a lonely widower. But the film eventually unmasks her true nature as a bloody femme fatale who draws men in with the intention of causing them psychological and physical harm later on. She was severing body parts long before Jigsaw with an unprecedented level of obsession, rage, and delusion. Audition and Asami are certainly not for the squeamish among us.

Malla sits on a throne with skulls beside her

Universal Pictures

Malla from The Leech Woman

This movie certainly has its share of terrible stereotypes about African people, which isn’t shocking for a 1960 film. In fact, Malla (Estelle Helmsley/Kim Hamilton) falls into the magical negro trope as a 150+ year old woman who supposedly knows the secret to youth.

However, she’s by far the best character in this film, because every other person is absolutely awful. She’s not shuckin’ and jivin’ or an overdramatic “bump in the night” boogeywoman like many portrayals of Black people in mainstream horror at the time. Instead, she’s the smartest person in the room and finds a way to take advantage of an awful couple to get what she wants: to return to homeland.

Reese examines a broken glass window

TriStar Pictures

Reese Wilson from Urban Legend

Reese (Loretta Devine) is a fun, witty bright light in the midst of murder. While a group of college students are picked off one by one, this campus police officer is ready to channel her inner Coffy.

She’s probably the only reason to watch Urban Legend, because she’s so delightful in all of her scenes. But there are moments and dialogue that suggest her character has been through some pretty dark times. We love a woman who does her job and is ready to put a bullet in the antagonist with no hesitation.

Lisa confronts Blacula

American International Pictures

Lisa Fortier from Scream Blacula Scream

In the 1970s, Pam Grier was well-known for playing sexy, badass characters like Coffy and Foxy Brown. But people often forget her interesting role in Scream Blacula Scream as Lisa Fortier, a voodoo apprentice and the protagonist of this story.

It wasn’t commonplace to see a Black woman at the center of a horror film at the time, and even less so to se one—spoiler alert—survive in the end. Lisa gives us drama, action, intelligence, fear, and beauty while opening the door for more Black women to lead horror films.

Ganja stands in front of a window

The Film Foundation

Ganja from Ganja & Hess

Ganja & Hess is an artistic vampire story embedded with commentary about blackness, assimilation into society, and the rejection of respectability politics in the 70s.

The film largely focuses two affluent and introspective Black people as they fall in love. Ganja (Marlene Clark) falls in love with Hess, a vampiric anthropologist whom she later marries, and learns from him about survival as a vampire. She feels strikingly real with her insight into what it would actually be like to transition into and navigate through unknown territory.

Two cheerleaders look off screen

New Artist Pictures

McKayla Hooper and Sadie Cunningham from Tragedy Girls

Tragedy Girls puts a spin on the dark teen horror comedy with Alexandra Shipp and Brianna Hildebrand as McKayla and Sadie, respectively. It’s a big deal because most Jennifer’s Body and Heather-esque films rarely, if ever, have a prominent Black lead.

The high school seniors take their true crime blog to unthinkable levels when they start committing horrific crimes as fodder for their posts. There’s literally no redeeming qualities for this pair, and that’s a good thing. Antagonists don’t always have to have rationale or a tragic backstory to “explain” their behavior. McKayla and Sadie are evil for the heck of it and more people should see their diabolical plans unfold.

Three women hold flashlights in a cave

Celador Films

The Women of The Descent

This absolutely horrifying 2005 British horror film features not one but six women leads whose trip into an Appalachian cave turns into a nightmare. Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza), Beth (Alex Reid), Sam (MyAnna Buring), Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), and Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) are far away from help and being hunted by a pack of bloodthirsty humanoid creatures.

But they aren’t anyone’s damsels in distress, props for male heroes, or simple eye candy to distract from gore. These ladies are fully realized characters with distinct personalities, motivations, and reactions to this unthinkable situation. It’s rare to see a horror film with an all-women cast and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Melanie stares at a zombie person

Warner Bros.

Melanie from The Girl with All the Gifts

It’s impossible to not fall for Melanie (Sennia Nanua) in this stunning 2016 British horror flick. She’s a hybrid human experiment subject in the heart of a post-apocalyptic society who escapes captivity to witness the horrors outside. Melanie is incredibly brave, resourceful, and the hero who leads the charge towards an unexpected (and scary) new world.

Women and girls in horror are varied and changing over the years. Hopefully, this new decade will continue to bring more amazing characters to fear, love, and hate as the genre keeps moving forward.

Featured Image: Celador Films