**Spoilers abound! You have been warned!**
When it comes to women in horror, often women are the heroines of the piece. Frequently, it is the final girl who faces off against the killer, outsmarting them at every turn and subsequently either killing the killer or simply escaping to live another day.
It’s not all about the heroines though.
From the more prominent characters such as Mrs. Voorhees in the 1980 film, Friday the 13th, Margaret White in Carrie, and Julia Cotton in Hellraiser and Hellraiser II, to lesser-known ladies, horror has given us some truly wonderful antagonistic women.
Here are 13 fabulous and fatal women in horror who ran the show.
RHODA PENMARK – THE BAD SEED (1956)
Enfant Terrible Rhoda is a pretty child who loves dresses, her father and killing people who get in her way and stop her from getting what she wants.
She commits her first murder at the age of eight, drowning a fellow classmate during a class picnic after she loses to him in a penmanship competition. Later, she plays the piano while the man whose bedding she set ablaze runs through the garden, his entire body aflame.
In the end, Rhoda is killed before she can grow up to become even more nefarious, owing to the MPAA’s Hays Code.
An interesting theme in this movie, and the book it is based on, is it raises the suggestion that some people are simply born that way and in certain cases, it is nature not nurture that is the root of a problem. At the same time, it cleverly makes an argument for the contrary point of view; that it is both nature and nurture, and that coddling can oftentimes be a different side of the same coin as neglect.
PANNOCHKA – VIY, AKA SPIRIT OF EVIL/ий (1967)
Khoma, a seminary student, beats an old witch after she agrees to let him spend the night in her barn, then puts him under a spell and rides around the countryside on his back.
As she lies dying, the old witch turns into a beautiful young woman and horrified, Khoma flees back to the seminary. Once there, he is told the young daughter of a rich merchant is not only dying and in need of prayers for her soul but she’s also been asking for Khoma by name.
Reluctant to go initially, he has no choice but to agree when threatened with a public beating, but arrives too late; the girl has already died and upon arriving, to his horror, Khoma realizes that it is the very witch he beat, thus he is responsible for her death.
Khoma is promised a great reward by her father if he agrees to stand vigil and pray for her soul for the next three nights, and should he refuse, punishment is implied. He acquiesces and so begins three nights of terror for Khoma. The girl rises from the dead and each night attempts to reach him, though on the first and second he is able to outwit her.
On the third night, however, furious, the witch summons Viy; a colossal monster whom no one can look in the eye. Viy is able to see Khoma however, allowing the other demons to pounce on him and begin beating him until the rooster crows. The demons flee, leaving Khoma on the floor.
The girl, credited as Pannochka, having succeeded in getting her revenge on Khoma, turns back into the old witch and lies back down in the coffin, which then falls apart.
ANNA DE BOISSY AND LORE FOURNIER – DON’T DELIVER US FROM EVIL (1971)
A pair that couldn’t be separated even in death, two Catholic school girls, Anne de Boissy and Lore Fournier, are best friends – later turned lovers – who live to play vicious pranks on others while reading about the beauty of death and pushing the limits of a small, conventional, religious environment they live in. They view themselves as superior to others as well as infinite and untouchable. They also share a deep disdain for the church they are forced to attend, as well as their Catholic school, believing it’s all nonsensical.
Over the course of one summer, while Anne’s parents are away, she and Lore become lovers and their pranks escalate. They set fire to the home of a local cowherd as punishment for his perverted ways. They kill the pet birds and tear up the clothes of the school’s groundskeeper simply to derive pleasure from his suffering. They even steal sacraments for a Black Mass in which they wed themselves to Satan, asking him to aid them in becoming even more wicked. They also cut each other’s fingers and exchange blood in order to create an even stronger bond.
Not long after this, on one fateful night, the girls find themselves in deeper trouble than they can handle, culminating in Anne killing a man who attempts to rape Lore. Following this, the two become terrified of being arrested when a local detective becomes suspicious of the two in connection to the man’s disappearance. Anne and Lore are convinced the detective knows what they did and thus make a suicide pact stating they will go to Hell together and be rewarded by Satan.
They go through with the suicide pact at a school recital, truly going out in a blaze of glory via self-immolation, after reciting a morose poem by Jules Laforgue.
Naturally, havoc ensues, with the audience realizing in horror that the finale was genuine. People scramble in terror towards the exit with some being crushed in the panic. Their distraught parents are forced to evacuate the hall that is rapidly turning into an inferno.
HELENA MARKOS – SUSPIRIA (1977)
Helena Markos, also known as the Black Queen, Mater Suspiriorum, and the Mother of Sighs, is one of the three mothers in Dario Argento’s Mothers Trilogy. Helena Markos emigrated from Greece and was exiled from many Europeans countries due to her occult leanings and the books she had written centering around that topic. She was the founder of the dance academy (Tanz Akademie), a school for dance and occult sciences alike. The school was situated in the Black Forest outside Freiburg in Germany.
Over time, however, locals of the area grew increasingly suspicious about Markos, becoming convinced – correctly so – that she was a witch. This led to Markos faking her own death in a fire in 1905, in order to hide from the watchful eyes of locals resulting in the academy became a ballet school only. It was said that Markos’ most talented pupil had inherited the academy and was running things, but in truth, Markos was running things from behind the scenes throughout the movie.
She is ultimately defeated by the final girl, Suzy Bannion, in a showdown where Suzy impales her through the neck, killing her. This caused the rest of the coven to perish while the school crumbled before erupting into flames.
ANN THOMERSON – HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981)
Ann is a memorable villain to anyone who has seen the 1981 slasher, Happy Birthday To Me. Driven by the desire to get revenge on her best friend, Virginia “Ginny” Wainwright, who, it is revealed, is actually her illegitimate half-sister. Since she blames Ginny for tearing her family apart, Ann will stop at nothing, including lots of murders, to make sure she gets her way.
In a truly iconic and eerie final scene, Ann, posing as Ginny, while wearing an incredibly life-like latex mask in Ginny’s image, sings “Happy Birthday” to herself while carrying a beautiful white and pink birthday cake to a table that hosts the decomposing bodies of her victims. She then cuts her father’s throat, then attempts to kill Ginny, but is thwarted in this when Ginny gains the upper hand, killing Ann.
Ann successfully manages to frame Ginny for all of the murders however, a cop arrives on the scene, just in time to see Ginny stab Ann, exclaiming in horror, “What have you done?” before the film fades to black.
CATHERINE VALMONT AND HELENE – LA MORTE VIVANTE/THE LIVING DEAD GIRL (1982)
This is technically two girls, but there was no way this pair could be separated either.
Following a toxic waste spill, Catherine Valmont, who passed away two years before, is resurrected and thirsting for blood. She wanders aimlessly, killing some robbers as childhood memories return to her. In particular, memories of her beloved Helene.
Catherine kills more people in order to drink their blood and is discovered by Helene, who believes that Catherine was not actually dead for the past two years but hiding somewhere. At one point, Helene stops Catherine from consuming the blood of others, cutting herself and offering Catherine her own blood instead.
When Helene realizes exactly what is happening to Catherine, she makes the choice to bring victims to her and lures two victims to where Catherine can feed.
After this, Catherine becomes cognizant of what is happening and begs Helene to kill and destroy her. However, Helene cannot bear the idea of doing so and instead brings Catherine another victim to feed off. Though Helene tortures the potential victim, Catherine refuses to kill her, instead freeing and telling her to seek help.
Helene, meanwhile, viciously murders a couple who are investigating the mystery surrounding Catherine’s rise from the grave. Catherine then attempts suicide but is stopped by Helene, who, in one final act of love, offers herself to Catherine’s hunger. Catherine is unable to resist and ends up devouring her friend alive.
PATTI O’CONNOR – CURTAINS (1983)
One of the six main women who arrive at the mansion of acclaimed filmmaker Jonathan Stryker in order to audition for and win the role of Audra, Patti O’Connor is a comedian who longs to break into the serious world of acting.
She’s determined to win the prestigious role no matter what it takes. The phrase “Burning Ambition” applies perfectly in Patti’s case as she dons a particularly ghoulish looking mask and begins to systematically kill every other woman in the mansion, thus eliminating the competition. “Have you ever wanted something so badly that you’d do anything for it?” she hauntingly asks another character at one point.
In the end, Patti is apprehended and the closing scene of Curtains shows her as a patient at a mental health facility after being apprehended. Here she performs a monologue from “Audra” for her fellow patients, who pay no attention to her whatsoever.
BETTY’S MOTHER – OPERA (1987)
Possibly the most sadistic woman on this entire list, the deceased mother of Betty; the main character and final girl of Dario Argento’s 1987 film Opera was a sexual deviant with a voracious appetite.
Years before the movie’s events, Betty’s unnamed opera singer mother manipulated a teenage boy who was obsessed with her and willing to do absolutely anything she wanted – including slaying women in hopes of gaining her love, or at least, sex in return.
Santini, the movie’s killer, murdered multiple women at the request of Betty’s mother, while she watched and derived sexual satisfaction from it. She wouldn’t let Santini touch her, however, and eventually, he snapped and strangled Betty’s mother when she demanded “more blood and more cruelty” from him. His love and obsession with her never died, however, and Santini’s desire to kill once again was rekindled when he saw Betty, who is the physical image of her mother, on stage, as he regards her as her mother’s reincarnation.
Though Betty’s mother is dead before the story even starts, her presence is everywhere in the movie. One can make an argument for her being the main antagonist, with Santini being secondary to her and even another victim of hers, while simultaneously being a villain. Opera is Dario Argento’s take on Macbeth and Betty’s mother is most certainly the Lady Macbeth of this story.
CORY FOSTER – CHEERLEADER CAMP (1988)
The 1988 slasher Cheerleader Camp is a campy and sleazy slasher movie. While it’s definitely not one of the best horror movies around, it is worth a one time watch for its villain alone (and her inventive variety of kills).
Cory Foster, the school mascot and best friend to the movie’s protagonist, Alison, systematically begins to eliminate the cheerleaders one by one over the course of a few days at camp. Her motive is that she’s fed up with the ridicule she faced as a mascot as well as her desire to be the number one cheerleader.
What makes Cory a truly chilling villain is how easily she is able to feign concern and kindness throughout the course of the movie with everyone, especially Alison who is always shown as being a good friend to Cory.
The movie ends with Alison being taken away in an ambulance after shooting her boyfriend Brent, who Cory had framed as the killer. Alison realizes too late that it was Cory all along and that Alison was being framed, insisting to police that she is innocent only for them to dismiss her.
At the same time, Cory is shown wearing a cheerleader uniform belonging to one of the victims while cheering her own name and throwing pom-poms into the air.
SADIE CUNNINGHAM AND MCKAYLA HOOPER – TRAGEDY GIRLS (2017)
Another two for one pair! High school cheerleaders and best friends since childhood, McKayla and Sadie, are obsessed with both true crime and gaining more followers on their crime blog, Tragedy Girls. After capturing serial killer Lowell Orson Lehmann, who refuses to help them, they instead hold him captive. Deciding to combine their two passions, the girls embark on a murder spree that throws their small mid-western town into disarray.
Things don’t go entirely smoothly, however, resulting in a falling out between the girls at one point. They reconcile at prom after it is revealed they committed their first murder together at a much younger age; killing the mother of the boy Sadie had been dating up to that point. The girls then chain lock the gymnasium doors shut, starting a fire that kills 124 of their fellow students.
Lehmann is shown to have been blamed for the murders, while McKayla and Sadie are now more famous than ever, having gotten away with everything.