From Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein's monster, to Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger, the faces of horror are inescapably male. Why is that? Are there even any exceptions? Where are the female monsters in film?
BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN comes to mind, though it shouldn't. Elsa Lanchester appears only briefly at the end and never does anything to anybody. The scariest thing she almost does is get married. But if that gives people nightmares, it's not because of her.
Based on male monster success, lesser female versions sometimes appear by default, a last ditch attempt at cashing in. DRACULA'S DAUGHTER and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS, for example.
Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, the Invisible Man, and the Fly exemplify the mad scientist, the brilliant man who probes too far. But we never see that with women. A woman can be a monster if there is overt humor. In PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, Large Marge is a ghostly truck driver. DEAD ALIVE, Peter Jackson's early-career "splatter cartoon," features a hilariously grotesque mom-ster.
More often, women are relegated to four primary monster-type roles: the bad mom, the jilted lover, the bad daughter, and the helper to a more evil man. Interesting though these roles often prove, none are legitimate monsters. Mostly because we never see them as Halloween masks.
Joan Crawford inspired a bad mom two-fer: Faye Dunaway plays her in MOMMIE DEAREST, and she was the visual inspiration for Snow White's Evil Queen stepmother.
Glenn Close makes a great jilted lover in FATAL ATTRACTION, which bears close comparison to PLAY MISTY FOR ME; in both cases, the spurned woman, seeking tit for tat, is ready for the booby hatch. For her evil deeds in BASIC INSTINCT, Sharon Stone deserves a dishonorable mention. Not exactly a horror character, though.
Ultimately, the super-sexy bad woman is a cinematic cheat because emphasis on titillation simply undermines. ATTACK OF THE 50FT. WOMAN, with its voluptuously beautiful star, wasn't made for scaring.
For bad daughter movies, nothing beats THE BAD SEED. THE GOOD SON, an inferior re-make, flat out fails at ripping it off. In theory, Elizabeth Montgomery as the hatchet-wielding murderer in 1975's made-for-TV THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN should have worked. But doesn't. In a class by itself, CARRIE. Sissy Spacek makes a painfully sympathetic daughter pushed over the edge by conniving peers and a hellishly controlling mother. It's a powerful story, but she's not the monster.
In the evil helper role, no one does better than Ruth Gordon in ROSEMARY'S BABY. Compared to her, Lady MacBeth is a rank amateur. Still, not a proper monster.
Stanley Kubrick's depiction of both the woman in the bathtub and the hand-holding twins in THE SHINING would be the Holy Grail of female monsters in film if they were the stars of the show. In the case of FRIDAY THE 13th, sort of a reverse version of PSYCHO, the monster is a woman--and who can even remember? For all the rest of the many sequels, even though Jason Voorhees died as a little boy, the bad guy is inexplicably a guy.
Keeping that little trick in mind, it's amazing we haven't seen umpteen sequels to MISERY with some dude replacing Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes. On account she makes the Creature From the Black Lagoon look like Charlie the Tuna. Even so, we rarely see kids at Halloween all decked out for a hobbling.
In ancient times and faraway places, it's a lot less difficult to find legitimate female monsters. Winged harpies, frenzied maenads. Grendel's chunky, ticked off mother. Most recognizable of all, Medusa, the Gorgon.
When a movie monster is a man, we have no problem with that. It simply seems perfectly normal. Not so, however, when the monster is a woman.
Evidently, that just hits too close to home.
NOTE TO REGULAR READERS OF THIS BLOG:
The reason I haven't been posting for about a month is because I've been busy reconstructing my life. New residence, new employment, new everything. When the time is right, all shall be revealed. Faithful readers will be rewarded with juicy, nutrient-packed stories. Never doubt. Never fear. Sometimes I must wander off to conduct my mystical ways. But I'll be back. Oh yes. I will return.