The Bechdel Test – it isn’t a perfect system to determine whether a story is diverse and inclusive, but it’s a step in the right direction. Generally, it is more telling if a film cannot pass this seemingly simple test, because it shouldn’t be that hard. Here are the three criteria a movie has to meet to “pass” the Bechdel Test:
- It has to have at least two [named] women in it
- Who talk to each other
- About something besides a man
That’s it. Here are a few of our picks for Horror films that pass the Bechdel Test.
10. Cape Fear (1991)
This one isn’t quite the Bechdel Test slam dunk as some of the others on the list, but it definitely passes on a few different occasions. Cape Fear is often overlooked, however, and that is an absolute crime. Maybe it’s because it came out the same year as Silence of the Lambs, but Cape Fear is absolutely terrifying. Robert De Niro is totally game as Max Cady, and watching him terrify the Bowden family, including Jessica Lange’s Leigh and Juliette Lewis’s Danielle, is intense and voyeuristic. This is one creepy and unsettling film, and it’s almost impossible to turn away from it once it starts due to its magnetic performances.
There are plenty of people who have trouble with horror that “seems like it could really happen” – those people should probably avoid Cape Fear. It’s a tough watch, and comes close to crossing the line on more than a few occasions. However, the film is executed with so much skill that it never quite feels like pure exploitation. Horror fans should not forget about this classic remake – a rare instance of a remake being as good, if not better, than the original.
9. The Fog (1980)
The Fog only has a few instances where it passes the Bechdel Test, but still a pass. Most of the instances featuring those conversations drive a central element of the plot as well. Janet Leigh’s Kathy discusses the Antonio Bay Centennial Celebration throughout the film with nearly anyone who will listen, and the arrival of this anniversary is what makes the imminent supernatural invasion so potentially devastating.
The Fog tends to be an overlooked entry in John Carpenter’s (impressive) catalog, but it really shouldn’t be. The three lead women – Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Adrienne Barbeau – are all Hollywood legends, and other strong performances from notable names like Tom Atkins, John Houseman, and Hal Holbrook shouldn’t be overlooked either. No Carpenter fan should miss The Fog, even if it’s a bit cheesy by today’s standards.
8. Carrie (1976)
Both versions of Carrie definitely pass the Bechdel Test, but the 1976 original – with Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, and Amy Irving – is the superior telling of the Stephen King novel. It features one of the most iconic horror images of all time: the disbelieving Carrie White, accepting her crown as the Prom Queen, not knowing that the voting was rigged in order to play a cruel prank on her. It’s tough to forget the haunting image of Carrie’s blood-covered, wide-eyed face as she goes through her emotions: confusion, realization, panic, fear, and, ultimately, determination. You can hardly fault her for exacting revenge the way she does.
One thing that really stings about Carrie – and many of King’s works – is that things don’t wrap up nicely. Even with some decent support from the people around her, even after taking revenge on many of the people that harmed her, Carrie never really finds peace. Sue Snell never finds peace. Miss Collins doesn’t even come close to finding peace – she winds up crushed to death during Carrie‘s telekinetic massacre. At least Billy and Chris get theirs, too.
7. The Addams Family (1991)
The Addams Family blessed us with some of the most memorable female characters in all of film: Morticia, Wednesday, and even Grandmama get plenty of moments to shine in this oddball film, and it’s tough to talk about the film without mentioning these excellent performances. Even better, nearly every actor in this ensemble piece gets a chance to appear onscreen with everyone else, and some of the most memorable interactions help the film pass the Bechdel Test.
Yes, Gomez and Morticia spend much of the film discussing how strongly they feel for one another, but there are plenty of occasions that let the Addams matriarch advance the plot without discussing her “amour.” A particular highlight is when Morticia attends a conference with Wednesday’s teacher to discuss the girl’s fascination with the occult.
6. The Descent (2005)
If you’ve never seen The Descent, do yourself a favor and go check it out – a cast made up of almost entirely badass women go exploring a massive cave system. They encounter some absolutely horrific creatures there and need to work together in order to survive. This movie really has it all – great creature work, a chilling atmosphere, and strong performances across the board. It has no problem passing the Bechdel Test, either – the only men that appear in the entire film are only in a few flashbacks.
The best part about The Descent‘s horror, however, comes from a fear that all too many people experience: claustrophobia. Good creature work happens in plenty of horror movies, but the most uncomfortable scenes in The Descent are when characters have to squeeze through tight spaces in the cave system. Maybe it’s just us, but the pacing and confined feel of those scenes make them absolutely excruciating to watch. Make sure you get the original British cut – that particular ending is much better.
5. Hereditary (2018)
Definitely a different style of horror movie – this one is a slow burn throughout, culminating in an absolutely insane final thirty minutes. One thing Hereditary definitely does right, though, is feel real; there are plenty of supernatural goings-on in the movie, but the characters interact and operate perfectly within the rules of the film’s world. There aren’t a ton of characters in Hereditary, but there are several instances where the movie’s women get to work in scenes with one another and try to figure out (or obscure) what is happening as the Graham family slowly falls to pieces.
Toni Collette gives an absolute powerhouse performance in Hereditary as Annie Graham. She does a ton of emotional heavy lifting in this film, and trying to figure out how much of the weirdness is due to her losing her grip on reality and how much is due to actual “things that go bump in the night” is an absolute blast. Again, the last half hour or so of this film is pure insanity – things go sideways in a hurry and never quite get back to normal.
4. The Witch (2015)
The Witch, like Hereditary, features one of those “The monster is symbolic of systematic problems in the world, but also, watch out, because there’s probably a real monster out there” plots. It also features an absolutely amazing performance from its female lead: Anya-Taylor Joy’s work as Thomasin put her on everyone’s radar as a serious acting talent. The world of The Witch is also so screwed up that it would seem far too trivial if the characters spent time discussing the boys in their life – they are more worried about things like “not letting a possibly-possessed goat kill them.”
This is another slow-burn film, and another one where you aren’t sure how much of it is in the characters’ heads and how much supernatural horror is actually occurring. When everything starts to go haywire near the end of this film, and you start putting it all together – it’s one that will leave a lasting impression on its audience.
3. Annihilation (2018)
Another film featuring very few male characters, Annihilation is an easy pass for the test. Even though the central driving force for Natalie Portman’s Lena to enter the Shimmer is to find out what happened to Kane, her drive seems to change as she spends more time inside the alien world. As both a soldier and a scientist, she becomes more and more driven to see exactly what is going on in the strange world she enters. Annihilation is another film that features an amazing central cast of badass women: besides Portman, it also features Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny. The group does not spend their time in the Shimmer discussing the men in their life.
Annihilation is a pretty divisive film. Its beautiful to look at and has strong actresses, but its dream-like feel, difficult philosophy, and sharp deviations from the source material left some people unsure of what to make of it. If you need more strong, female-driven films in your life, however, this is a good one to add to your rotation.
2. The Craft (1996)
Let’s rev up those angsty 90s nostalgia classics with The Craft! Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, and Robin Tunney absolutely kill it in this one as a group of friends who start to tap into their own magical abilities. As they become more and more powerful, they start to flex that power and influence to improve their own lives and to ruin the lives of some of those around them. The Craft delves into philosophical analysis of power, friendship, and mental illness, as all four of the girls deal with their own insecurities and how their powerful abilities can change those insecurities.
The Craft ultimately tries to show how power can destroy anything when it is put to the wrong ends. There are elements of the film that may read a bit clunky now, but the performances by the four badass leading ladies cannot be denied. There’s a pretty phenomenal soundtrack attached as well – you’ll be digging through your closet for your thigh high socks and suspenders in no time.
1. Suspiria (1977 & 2018)
No matter which version of the film you watch – Dario Argento’s 1977 original or Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 reimagining – Suspiria is going to mess with your head. They also show that horror movies can do just fine when they are driven by a predominantly female cast. Suspiria positively drips with a sense of dread; you know the hammer is going to fall, but you aren’t exactly sure when (or how). Everything about (both versions of) the film feels otherworldly and unsettling, and it helps contribute to the creepy atmosphere.
Both versions of the film are very different in both their plot and their execution. But they both deal with a similar basic premise: a remote, prestigious dance school with all manner of strange happenings going on. And, with both versions, there will be plenty of instances of women getting to dominate the proceedings. They may not be for everyone, but films this polarizing usually have something big to say.
There are plenty of other noteworthy films that could have made our list. What are some of your favorite Bechdel Test-passing horror flicks? Let us know on Twitter, in the official NOFS subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!