PAUL MOYNIHAN makes a list of creepy women in British horror films
Willow from The Wicker Man (1973)
The Wicker Man (1973) is often regarded as the greatest British horror film of all time, a title the film is certainly worthy of. It tells the story of Police Sergeant Neil Howie (played brilliantly by Edward Woodward), a deeply religious and professional man who arrives on the mysterious island of Summerisle in search of a young girl who has disappeared. All is not as it seems, however, and it doesn’t take Howie too long to discover this.
One of the film’s most compelling and straight-up unusual characters is Willow, daughter of the landlord of the Green Man pub where Howie is staying during his time on Summerisle. In one of The Wicker Man’s most unforgettable scenes, Willow (played by future Bond girl Britt Ekland) begins singing an unsettling tune in the room next door to the virginal Howie. The addition of her nudity during this scene adds a surreal touch, as the policeman struggles to fight his urges. Despite the fact that he cannot even see her, his hidden desire begins to show itself.
This seemingly supernatural siren song has helped cement Ekland’s place on my list of the seven creepiest female characters in British horror cinema.
The Grady Girls from The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s renowned horror classic The Shining (1980) is full of terrifying moments, but none are more spooktacular than the sight of the Grady twins. These two seemingly innocent girls (played by Lisa and Louise Burns) were murdered by their father, a previous caretaker in the film’s creepy Overlook Hotel. Now, their ghosts haunt the building, in search of an everlasting playmate.
‘Come play with us, forever and ever’, they offer young Danny Torrance as he explores the hotel’s hallways on his tricycle. This line is laced with a sinister undertone, and has immortalised the girls in the annals of horror history. Absolutely spine-tingling.
The Woman In Black from The Woman In Black (1989/2012)
Daniel Radcliffe stars as lawyer Arthur Kipps in this chilling adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1983 novella. Sent to the village of Crythin Gifford to settle the sale of an eerie mansion, Kipps begins to see the apparition of a woman in black, a cursed being with vengeance on her mind.
To delve any deeper would be giving the story away, so let’s just say that this is one screen siren you do not want to take lodgings with. A dark and disturbing mystery, The Woman In Black is a brilliant British horror film that boasts one of the genre’s most recent frightening females.
Eleanor ‘Nell’ Lance from The Haunting (1963)
Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House is widely regarded as one of the scariest books ever written, and its 1963 big screen adaptation lives up to this hype.
Paranormal investigator John Markway takes over the grisly Hill House in order to conduct research, and is joined by Luke, Theodora and the emotionally fragile Eleanor (played by Julie Harris). As the house begins to come to life with the sound of doors banging and various other phenomena, Eleanor’s mental health begins to deteriorate. The house is slowly taking her over, turning her into one of cinema’s spookiest leading ladies.
The Haunting is a true classic, a film that has undergone much study and analysis from film fans. Is there something otherworldly inhabiting Hill House? Are these manifestations just psychic projections of Eleanor’s inner torment? That’s really for you to decide, but one thing’s certain: Julie Harris’s portrayal of Eleanor is one of the creepiest performances in British horror history.
Sarah from The Descent (2005)
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Neil Marshall’s The Descent is probably my favourite British horror film of this century so far, thanks to a terrific lead performance from Shauna Macdonald as the tragic and traumatised Sarah.
One year after losing her husband and daughter in a horrific car accident, extreme sports enthusiast Sarah and her friends decide to go spelunking in a cave in the Appalachian mountains in an attempt to move on. After becoming trapped within this underground labyrinth, the group discover there is something far more disturbing than mere abandonment facing them.
The film’s title refers to much more than spelunking, as it becomes clear that Sarah’s emotional state becomes unhinged as a result of some shocking revelations that are best not discussed here for fear of spoiling it. The Descent is an amazing film, and boasts one of the creepiest female performances ever.
Mary from Shaun Of The Dead (2002)
An unconventional choice as she is one of the lesser known female characters in British horror, but a wonderful character nonetheless.
Edgar Wright’s brilliant Shaun Of The Dead is probably the most famous British horror film of recent years, telling the story of Shaun and Ed who find themselves in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Smart writing, amazing special effects and snappy pacing make Shaun Of The Dead a riot, rich with hilarious set pieces. One of the film’s best moments is the lads’ discovery of a local checkout girl dwelling in their backyard. She is, of course, infected by the zombie virus and hungry for brains.
Mary’s jerking movements (brilliantly executed by actress Nicola Cunningham), amazing make-up and ultimately stomach-churning demise make for one of the most unsettling (yet amusing) female characters in recent British horror cinema. The reason it works so well is that we actually see Mary during the film’s opening, scanning items at a checkout. In this scene, she looks like a zombie too, albeit without the craving for human flesh. It is her job that has her feeling this way, a frightening thought that highlights intelligent foreshadowing. A minor character who plays a major part in the history of creepy women in horror.
Mrs Baylock from The Omen (1976)
‘Have no fear, little one. I am here to protect thee.’ The immortal words of Mrs Baylock (Billie Whitelaw) in 1976’s The Omen have secured her a place on many a freaky female list.
Sent from Satan himself to ensure the safety of the demonic child Damien, Mrs Baylock poses as a nanny to the Thorne family. She is one of the film’s most disturbing characters, surrounded by shadow and mystery. Accompanied by one of the hounds of hell, she will stop at nothing to make sure the antichrist reaches his goal.
Billie Whitelaw is terrifying in the role, and Jerry Goldsmith’s heart-pounding score helps to solidify her spot on the list of the seven creepiest female characters in British horror.