20 Female-Centric Horror Movies Not To Miss

Photo: Courtesy of RADiUS-TWC
It Follows is the latest of many recent indie horror flicks to take a smarter look at those good old tropes of sex and death and growing up to come up with something that's both scary and smart. It's a thinky throwback to Halloween and other suburban classics, complete with a synth-heavy soundtrack and an intelligent young woman at the center of the action.

Maika Monroe (The Guest) stars as Jay, a teen who is looking forward to fooling around with her new beau. After what seems like a fun hook-up, Jay finds herself tied to a chair in a creepy abandoned lot, and the guy she just banged is apologizing to her but, like, she just really needs to listen to what he has to say! Apparently, the hottest STD around town has a tremendously awful symptom — a shambling, icky horror that follows you around until it catches you and kills you. No one else can see it, and it appears in different guises, and it just won't stop until it catches you and kills you. The only solution is to sleep with someone else, and make sure they sleep with someone else, because if they die, It comes back to you. The eerie town Jay and her friends live in is practically devoid of adults; there aren't cell phones or fancy new cars or anything that would tip you off to the 21st century, except a weird-looking clamshell e-reader. It's a nuanced, beautifully shot, and deeply creepy movie with a fabulous female character at the center.       

Although some genre fans will bristle at the idea that the recent spate of horror movies have been better than usual simply because critics and film festivals have been paying them more attention, well, it does seem like they've been improving since the days we had to scramble for copies of The Evil Dead on VHS. Although we're far from seeing equal representation onscreen when it comes to white dudes versus everyone else, there are an increasing number of standout films that have straight-up cool and complex female protagonists. 

The U.S. horror films of the '60s and '70s played around with class anxiety, the horrors of war, the sexual revolution and its increasing empowerment, then shifted toward a more reactionary "sluts 'n' slashers" vibe in the '80s and '90s. While we can always count on endless cash grabs from the folks who just won't leave Freddy and Jason alone, an increasing number of filmmakers are interested in more socially conscious, nuanced examinations of horror, especially in terms of our sexual roles and fears. It's not that every filmmaker is purposefully trying to subvert or reinterpret Carol Clover's Final Girl theory, but that all of these ideas are floating around in our collective unconscious, for us to pluck out and play with and riff on at will.

Horror is at its best and most effective as a genre when it's cathartic and when it plays on whatever's lurking around in our shadow selves. And, sometimes? Our shadow selves can be real bitches.
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Photo: Courtesy of IFC Films.
The Babadook (2014)
Aussie actress Essie Davis and her wee co-star Noah Wiseman do the heavy lifting in this claustrophobic tale of terror about a grieving widow and her troubled son. When Amelia (Davis) finds a creepy new book on her son Samuel's shelf, the already troubled boy's obsession with monsters begins to drive them both a little bit crazy. Writer/director Jennifer Kent is one to watch.
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Photo: Courtesy of Kino Lorber Inc.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour's punk rock feature film debut is a black and white Iranian love story about a nameless vampire girl who wears a chador to cruise the streets of Bad City on her skateboard. When she meets a handsome boy at a Halloween party (he's dressed as a vampire, naturally), their worlds are rocked. Amirpour's influences range from Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch to spaghetti westerns, so don't let the fang-banging turn you off.
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Photo: Courtesy of XLrator Media
Housebound (2014)
Newcomer Gerard Johnstone makes great use of humor blacker than a cup of Dale Cooper's coffee, a dash of gore, and some decent scares for a horror/comedy hybrid about a woman forced to serve out her house arrest at her mum's possibly haunted house.
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Photo: Courtesy of A24.
Under the Skin (2013)
Scarlett Johansson is out of this world as a mysterious woman who stalks the streets of Scotland picking up well-built male hitchhikers. Under the Skin works best if you know nothing about the movie beforehand, so steel yourself and jump in.
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Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate.
You're Next (2011)
Going home to meet your boyfriend's parents is stressful enough, but Erin's (Sharni Vinson) night takes a nosedive when sadists in seriously creepy masks begin picking off the family members one by one. Fans of the mumblegore movement will also be pleased to see plenty of familiar faces in the cast, like AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and Amy Seimetz, with a bonus Barbara Crampton thrown in for good measure.
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Photo: Courtesy of XLrator Media.
American Mary (2012)
Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) stars as a medical student who drops out of school and discovers her surgical expertise and open-mindedness make her a great resource for people interested in extreme body modification. Keep your eyes out for an unforgettable cameo by writers and directors Jen and Sylvia Soska, a.k.a. the Twisted Twins.
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Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate.
Black Rock (2012)
Katie Aselton (The League) makes her directorial debut with this gnarly little revenge story about three women who reunite for a vacation on a woodsy island called Black Rock. Personal drama aside, things take a turn for the worse when Abby (Aselton), Lou (Lake Bell), and Sarah (Kate Bosworth) happen upon some hunters who were recently discharged from the military.
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Photo: Courtesy of Universal.
Mama (2013)
Annabel (Jessica Chastain) is not happy when her boyfriend Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) adopts the semi-feral children abandoned by his dead twin brother. Worse yet, the kids claim someone or something they refer to as Mama had been taking care of them. But, the worst has got to be when Annabel and Lucas begin to suspect that Mama has followed her girls to their new home.
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Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
If you love all things Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, and you don't mind a little scary or gory stuff, this Cabin is built for you. It's a weird, funny, clever spin on all those Jason movies we've seen before, but really, the less you know before you go, the more fun you'll have. Check out a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth, plus Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Fran Kranz, and some very cool cameos.
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Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate.
Hard Candy (2005)
Ellen Page stars as a 14-year-old girl named Hayley who meets an older man named Jeff, played by Patrick Wilson, on the Internet. The tables are turned once they end up back at his house after meeting for coffee, because as it turns out, this is one teenage vigilante not to tangle with. And, Hayley's done her homework about just what a creep Jeff is.
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Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate.
May (2002)
The only friend that May (Angela Bettis) has is a doll named Suzie who lives in a glass box. After she has her lazy eye fixed, May's ready to go out into the world and make some friends and maybe even date, but the results are traumatizing for everyone involved, except maybe Suzie. Just like May's mom always said, you can always make a friend — especially if you've got the surgical skills of a vet tech like May does.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dimension Films.
The Others (2001)
Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her kids are just a regular family waiting for their husband/father to return home from the war, except that Grace's children are sensitive to the light and can't ever go outside. Things start getting extra weird around their house right around the time three new servants appear. Are they being haunted?
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Photo: Courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
The House of the Devil (2009)
A college student agrees to a baby-sitting gig that turns into something far more sinister in this '80s throwback. It's a slow burn with a big payoff at the end, but don't read too much and spoil the fun. Keep an eye out for Greta Gerwig in a thankless role.
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Photo: Courtesy of Oscilloscope Pictures.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Based on the deeply disturbing novel by Lionel Shriver, Kevin is a horror movie about ambivalent motherhood. As shown in flashbacks, Eva (Tilda Swinton) has always had a fraught relationship with her son, Kevin. It seems like he's growing increasingly volatile as he gets older, but is she imagining it? Is it her fault? John C. Reilly co-stars as Eva's guileless husband who thinks Kevin is just a normal kid, more or less, and Ezra Miller is awesomely creepy as teenaged Kevin. Co-writer and director Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar) takes no prisoners.
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Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Jennifer's Body (2009)
Karyn Kusama's body horror high school hoedown got a bad rap from post-Juno Diablo Cody backlash (we love you, Diablo!) and an extra sexy trailer that oversold a smooch between Jennifer (Megan Fox) and her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried). Jennifer's Body is actually a really enjoyable take on body horror, with all sorts of stuff in there about toxic female friendships, body image, surviving sexual assault, and much more.
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Photo: Courtesy of Cinema Village Features.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) are sisters and BFFs who share a love for all things morbid. Something's been sneaking around their small town and killing dogs, but their main concern is their death pact and just being very spooky together. Their relationship takes a turn when Ginger gets her first period, because growing up stinks! But, also because whatever has been killing dogs takes a bite out of her, and soon Ginger's going through more than one change.
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Photo: Courtesy of Picturehouse.
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo del Toro's wrenching fairy tale has some very adult undertones, specifically fascism in Spain during the '40s under Franco, but its heroine is decidedly childlike. In the face of countless everyday horrors, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) takes refuge in a magical labyrinth and the company of its owner, the Faun (character actor Doug Jones), who sets her to three terrible tasks in order to claim her crown as princess. Sublime, tragic, and absolutely not for anyone even close to Ofelia's age.
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Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate.
The Descent (2005)
Who doesn't enjoy a little spelunking with her best gal pals? Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) is still recovering from the tragic loss of her husband and daughter when she reconvenes with her friends a year after the accident so they can all go exploring a cool cave system. Except they get lost. And, there's major interpersonal drama. And injuries. And, just when everything seems especially bleak, they discover they're not alone down there.
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Photo: Courtesy of Lot 47 Films.
Trouble Every Day (2001)
Gallic sex bomb Béatrice Dalle and American creeper Vincent Gallo co-star as strangers suffering from the same mysterious hunger for flesh and blood. Coré (Dalle) and Shane (Gallo) meet by chance in Paris, where Shane is celebrating his honeymoon with his petite wife even as his hunger grows increasingly debilitating. This artsy erotic gorefest by celebrated French auteur Claire Denis got mixed reviews, but it has its own cadre of diehard fans. Diehard, get it?
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