Vengeful Binge

How the Representation of Female Killers in Horror Showcases the Struggle and Strengths

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Women have always been a central part of horror, beginning as the terrorized damsel in distress of early monster movies. While the genre has since given a larger focus to strong, capable, and more importantly, realistic final girls, there’s something uniquely interesting about the female killer who slays the stereotype of the “weaker sex”. While some are simply sociopathic killers, born with that instinct to kill, most are a product of trauma and patriarchal society. These women are often targeted, attacked, and then left for dead, often in the wake of sexual or physical assault. Eventually they crack and fight back, thus creating a monster that can more than hold her own against those who would seek to control her. These killers speak to harmful misconceptions about women, all too common crimes against them, and show a certain righteous power within.

The Maternal Murderess


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The ‘maternal murderess’ in horror is a key archetype that helped power and inspire future representations of the female killer. One of the most iconic examples of this is Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) in Friday the 13th as the unstable, vengeful mother who couldn’t bear to let the tragic death of her son go unpaid for. The reveal of Pamela as the killer at the time was shocking and powerful. Among such slaughter, requiring great strength and aptitude, a middle-aged woman is one of the last people you would expect to be capable of such a violent feat. She both served as a warning not to undervalue a woman of any size or stature and spoke to issues of loss and the unwell mind.

Pamela’s maniacal turn isn’t only rooted in vengeance for Jason, but a product of the abuse she faced from her own husband, Elias. The comic book series, Friday the 13th: Pamela’s Tale, shows her finally snapping and fighting back, killing her husband before the tragedy at Camp Crystal Lake. In this, Pamela and by extension Jason, were products of the misogynist husband that felt he was in his right to treat the wife and mother of his child so cruelly. Pamela offers a powerful examination that has been a staple of horror, the unique connection of motherhood. She showcases the overwhelming need to protect your child at all costs, especially when it seems like that love is the only thing worth fighting for in this world. This common exploration taps into an inherently intuitive, loving nature in women. Yet it also acknowledges the dark side of what that love and desperation can lead to, the capability to commit great horror when it’s the only service they can do for their child.

There have been many horror films that have since wonderfully explored this, such as the atmospheric vampire film, Grace, which premiered at Sundance in 2009. In Grace, our heroine and first-time mother, Madeline Matheson (Jordan Ladd) becomes a killer out of her desperation to provide for her child. Madeline’s baby initially appeared to have died in the womb, thereafter, miraculously coming back to life, and seeming to be a perfectly healthy and innocent baby. Flies swarm her baby, who is resistant to all forms of typical nutrition and sustenance. Madeline soon realizes that her baby can only be nurtured by blood, preferably human. Initially a vegan, very concerned about humane treatment and the value of the life of all creatures, Madeline proves she is willing to pay any price to protect and care for her child even if that means becoming a killer for her. Madeline is a maternal murderess by necessity rather than being motivated by revenge or as a product of abuse. In her way, she is only trying to care for her child, even if her child is a blood hungry beast. She still chooses this path and is just as desperate and unable to cope with the idea of losing her child as Pamela. Additionally, the maternal murderess also speaks to how, for so long, society told us that a woman’s primary role was to produce children and be a mother. Without this, many lose their identities and will to live completely, thus transforming them into killers to hold on to that protective motherly role.

The Medusa Killer: The Monster of Their Making


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Image via 20th Century Fox

Jennifer Check of Jennifer’s Body, the tongue and cheek cult favorite film, offers up a strong example of the modern-day Medusa archetype of the female killer. The film opens on the line, “Hell is a teenage girl”, setting up the unapologetic playful yet satirical tone. Jennifer’s transformation offers hellacious commentary on the horrors of young womanhood from changes in ones’ body to the conniving power of teenage girls to the horrifying reality that as a woman you can be vulnerable to attack at any moment.

After being served up as a virgin sacrifice on a platter to the devil then left for dead, Jennifer becomes an untouchable demonic force of female monstrosity. On the surface, Jennifer’s Body can come across as a cheesy, sexually charged teen horror film, but there’s an enticingly satisfying power in how it turns the tables on gender roles. Jennifer offers a parallel to the story of many rape victims. Her attackers aren’t held accountable for their actions. In fact, they quickly fall into fame and fortune, while the scars that night left her with- a demonic influence and immortal invulnerability in this case- leave a mark that have forever changed her. She takes on a newfound strength and power in her new nature, luring boys in and devouring them in a bloody carnage. Jennifer becomes the unapologetic monster and despite killing and slaughtering mostly innocent people, you can’t help but cheer for her. Her appeal is in how she represents a certain female power- a type of power that is normally reserved for men. She is the sacrificial lamb who utterly turns the tables and becomes a malicious, dark force who relishes in her nature, knowing she will never be a victim again.

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One of the most iconic female killers in modern horror cinema is Asami Yamazaki from Takashi Miike’s utterly brutal revenge film, Audition. Our merciless and gleeful killer, Asami, makes a ferocious transformation from the soft spoken, optimistic, and kind-hearted picture perfect wife to a merciless vengeful killer. Another victim of horrific abuse, including sexual and physical assault as a child, she is the victim who never heals. She sees her abuser in every other man who might have deceived her or sought to hold power over her. Asami feels betrayed by them all and dedicates life to catching them into her web, viciously turning the tables and making sure they feel immense pain and torment while she relishes in their screams and anguish. Petite, seemingly gentle, and completely unsuspecting, on the exterior she embodies the opposition of a brutal killer, but as other female killers have shown us, looks can be deceiving. She is a powerful forewarning against expectations of women falling into the perfect male fantasy of an appealing wife, especially when the woman is lured in under false pretenses. The horrors Asami experienced from such an early age are both heartbreaking and shows how she became a product of her environment. She is a…

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