FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 12, 2020

FAVE 20: Heather Petrocelli

Listen, getting a "favorite 20" out of Heather was tough because she is a Hashtag All Movies Matter kind of gal. How could she possibly call Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning a favorite when Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is sitting right there, gazing at her with big, sad, toxic waste-filled eyes? (SPOILER: there are no Friday the 13th films on her list, never mind those two installments in particular.) Finally Heather simply accepted that making a 20 faves list is a torture that we all endure in the name of our goddess SHOCKtobra (okay next year I'm changing this month's name to SHOCKtobra for sure)--it is a rite of passage, a coming-of-age, a trial designed to test our horror movie mettle. Or something like that. Anyway, the (i.e. my) pain and suffering were worth it because while All Lists Matter, Heather truly went above, beyond, and all out for hers. She's one of those horror academic types, if you know what I mean (she's working on her doctorate), so get out your writing implements and take some notes. And be sure to follow Heather on Instagram at Queer for Fear for more of her musings!

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920, Robert Wiene)

Caligari is one of the best examples of how aesthetics can be used to express emotions. I saw The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as a teen and it blew open my kitten brain—I had never seen anything like it, being my first exposure to German Expressionism. Caligari helped me realize that film was my art—the art form that would define my life. Caligari taught me that an artificial, exaggerated, and highly stylized world of light and shadows can, at times, speak to a deeper human truth than a documentary—and look damn good doing so. While Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror/Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) could easily be listed in this spot, Caligari was the first to change everything for me.

HÄXAN: WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES (1922, Benjamin Christensen)

Okay, let’s just get this out in the open: I love witches! Witches are wise women. Witches are powerful. I even married a witch (also the title of my favorite Veronica Lake film). It is not a coincidence that witch hunts take place when the established political order senses a threat to the function of familial units; in other words, witch hunts happen when the patriarchy feels threatened. Women accused of being witches were condemned not for acts of witchcraft but for any act not conforming to the proper role of being a “good” wife and mother. With Häxan, director Benjamin Christensen worked from the Malleus Maleficarum (1486)—a text that functioned as a basic how-to for the patriarchy to define, find, persecute, and punish witches—to craft a film that is darkly celebratory and macabrely beautiful. I luxuriate in the film’s aesthetics and special effects. I want to acknowledge that Häxan tells another story of the patriarchy functioning to lock away women; even when ‘liberating’ women from witch hunts, women are called ‘hysterical’ instead. Even still, like a good queer, I rewrite the narrative to empower witches, because women’s power—a ‘witchcraft’ that is antecedent to religion—scares the crap out of the patriarchy. Plus, I love a film that was globally censored and banned and that features witches, demons, Hell, and the Devil himself (I’ll never look at churning butter the same way). I can hardly think of a witch film I don’t love. In fact, this list could be entirely composed of witch films, including Black Sunday/La maschera del demonio (1960), Superstition (1982), The Craft (1996), and The Witch (2015), and dedicated to all the women who live deliciously.


I’m a massive Universal Classic Monsters fan. I even love the shit films (I’m looking at you, She-Wolf of London). I love Universal Classic Monsters so much that I got Creature, Mummy, Dracula’s Daughter, Phantom, Frankenstein’s monster, and Bride as a tattoo sleeve in the ‘90s. When I picked the placement of each monster, I chose Bride to be front and center so I could spend my life looking at her. While any Universal Classic Monsters film could be on this list—and any horror film directed by James Whale should be on this list—I ultimately have to go with The Bride of Frankenstein because it has everything I love in a film: horrific moments, tenderness, gothic aesthetics, queerness, campiness, sadness, belly laughs, and Elsa Lanchester. When people make lists of best supporting roles or actors who steal a film with little screen time, Elsa is never mentioned for her role as The Bride. (Fuck you, misogyny.) Elsa is such a badbass that she turns 3 minutes of screen time into one of our most iconic monsters and captivating performances. Come for Frankenstein and his monster, and stay for Doctor Septimus Pretorious, Una O’Connor, and The Bride.

DRACULA'S DAUGHTER (1936, Lambert Hillyer)

One of my first loves is lesbian vampires. So narrowing down one of my favorite horror subgenres to a single film proved painful; I thrashed about selecting just one. Ask Stacie—I definitely thrashed about even creating a top-20 list in the first place. Ingrid Pitt, Delphine Seyrig, and Catherine Deneuve are all queer roots for me. Dear Lilith, any of them can bite me, any day. For this list I set my sights on the classic lesbian vampire, and I kneel before Countess Marya Zaleska, the daughter of Dracula. Like many queers, I appreciate and have a fondness for coded queerness in film, for subtextual queerness that is a secret for just us to find, to talk about, and to obsess over. And while these queer-coded films don’t end in queer triumph, I don’t focus on that narrative preservation and exhaltation of heteronormativity; I focus on the deliciousness of queer villains and explorations of queer desire. Gloria Holden makes Countess Zaleska both delicious and desirable. Yes, Countess Zaleska, you’ll do very well indeed.

CAT PEOPLE (1942, Jacques Tourneur)

This now-legendary partnership between Producer Val Lewton and Director Jacques Tourneur that created Cat People taught me that my own mind is the scariest place. Cat People shows us that the unseen, that which remains in the shadows, can be scarier than any embodied monster. This film privileges atmosphere, suggestion, and suspense over anything showy or explicit in telling the story of newlywed Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), who can’t consummate her marriage for fear of turning into a large pussy, I mean, cat—you know, from the ancient curse that plagues her family. Horror directors today could learn a thing or three from this film about the power of the unseen.

THE UNINVITED (1944, Lewis Allen)

I love me a good haunted house film—and if the house is haunted by a queer ghost, even better. But I can’t talk about The Uninvited without also talking about Rebecca (1940) with a deeply loving nod. The way The Uninvited’s Miss Holloway lights up when she thinks about Mary slays me as much as does the love and dedication that Mrs. Danvers shows Rebecca. These two devoted women, Miss Holloway and Mrs. Danvers, with their unquestionable love for their dead loves, empower me and break my heart. And, oh, how my baby dyke self needed to see these gothic butches existing. In case you weren’t clear by now that this is a lesbian film, it’s worth noting that Patricia White’s influential book about lesbian representation in film is titled: Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability. What’s more, The Uninvited is one the first haunted house films, if not the first, to signal that ghosts are real—not a figment easily explained away, a cover for nefarious activities, and/or an illusion for comedic effect. If all that weren’t enough to win you over, The Uninvited takes place on a windswept coast in England, has a great score, and features costumes by Edith Head.

GOJIRA (aka GODZILLA; 1954, Ishirô Honda)

Gojira was the first international creature feature I saw as a child, and I’ve had a soft spot for creature features ever since. I have and will continue to watch kaiju films over and over because they bring me great joy. From Alligator (1980) to Black Sheep (2006), from Frogs (1972) to The Host (2006), I love seeing animals and beasts take their revenge on humans. Watching Godzilla stomp and destroy is cathartic, fun, and political. I’d like to use this moment to ask everyone to join me in my campaign to end the gendering of Gojira. In the original film, Gojira is always referred to using a gender-neutral pronoun, akin to ‘it.’ It was the Americans who gendered Godzilla male when they called “him” ‘King of the Monsters.’ Long live Gojira—my favorite post-binary monster.

THE BAD SEED (1956, Mervyn LeRoy)

Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed is one of my favorite horror performances ever—and she was only ten when she starred as Rhoda. My only complaint about this film is that the Hays Code reared its ugly head and made Mervyn LeRoy change the book’s (and the play’s) ending. I would much prefer our little murderer go unpunished, to live and kill again (and again and again). Choosing this film might have more to do with the fact that I first saw The Bad Seed on the big screen in the ‘90s surrounded by 400 queers at Peaches Christ’s Midnight Mass in San Francisco. There are few things I enjoy more in life than watching campy horror with a room full of queers. (Seeing films in theatres is the thing that I miss the most from pre-pandemic ‘Before Times,’ and my dark heart breaks at the thought of not seeing a horror film with a theatre full of queers anytime soon.) Also, I grew up with John Waters and the Dreamlanders as idols, and there’s a definite link between The Bad Seed and John’s early films—from Rhoda to Taffy. Let’s be real, I
see most children as lil’ Rhodas.

THE INNOCENTS (1961, Jack Clayton)

Another B&W haunted house film! As I said, I love haunted house films, and my long list of favorites includes The Old Dark House (1932), The Haunting (1963), The Sentinel (1977), The Amityville Horror (1979), Poltergeist (1982), Beetlejuice (1988), and The Others (2001). I have to pull The Innocents out for this list because it is a perfect film. Based on The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James, adapted by William Archibald and Truman Capote for the silver screen, this film chills me to my bones. Horror is most effective when it’s affective, when it causes bodily reactions; this film gets under my skin, quickens my pulse, and gives me the best nightmares. I think The Innocents is one of the best horror films ever made. In fact, it’s so good that it inspired our Goddess Kate Bush to write the song “The Infant Kiss.”

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968, George A. Romero)

George A. Romero made great horror films and I love most everything he made—especially his Trilogy of the Dead, Season of the Witch (1972), Martin (1978), and Creepshow (1982). But Night of the Living Dead was my introduction to Romero and my first viewing experience was unforgettable. When I was a tween, a flash flood caused an evacuation of my community to a large gymnasium filled with humans, army cots, and anxiety. I aimlessly wandered the space and found a room in which another evacuee had set up a makeshift movie theatre where he screened his 16mm prints of Night of the Living Dead and Pink Flamingos. My life was never the same. It would be difficult for me to overstate the influence of Night of the Living Dead. Romero is a legend. Zombies are ubiquitous. And I know now, with the beauty of hindsight, that what matters most about Night of the Living Dead is that Ben was my first Black horror hero. I thought he was amazing. I cheered when Ben fiercely tells shithead Harry Cooper: “Now get the
hell down in the cellar. You can be the boss down there, but I’m boss up here!” And I still cheer. While it’s a travesty that there are not more fierce BIPOC, queer, and trans* horror heroes (and when there are, like Ben, they often pay for it in the end), things are changing. I believe horror will continue its increasingly inclusive trajectory. And Ben lives on in his own story and those of others, like in Get Out when Chris kills shithead Dean Armitage with buck antlers. I cheer. And I will continue to cheer for all the heroes to come.

HOUSE (aka Hausu; 1977, Nobuhiko Ôbayashi)

You need to see Hausu to believe Hausu. I am not sure where I would start to even describe what happens in this film, but I think a good description is one I remember coming from Criterion: Hausu is what you’d get if Mario Bava directed an episode of Scooby-Doo. While Godzilla was my first hook into Japanese horror, Hausu reeled me in and made me a life-long fan of J-horror, including some of my favorite horror films that didn’t fit on this list, like Pulse / Kairo (2001) and Noroi: The Curse (2005). And while Hausu is another haunted house, this haunted house/ghost/possession film takes us on a very different journey, after which you’ll never see cats, pianos, or mattresses the same way again. In fact, Hausu is less about watching a film and more about experiencing a film. All I know is that I want a dose of whatever Nobuhiko Ôbayashi had when making this film, or to have a brain that would make Hausu without the influence of any substance at all.

ALIEN (1979, Ridley Scott)

I’m in the final stretch of writing my PhD dissertation about queer spectatorship of horror cinema, with my research anchored by the largest quantitative and qualitative survey in horror studies. And I’m going to give you a teaser from my data: I asked over 4,100 horror-loving queers to list their top 5 favorite horror films and I received a list of nearly 20,000 films. And guess which film took the Number One spot? That’s right, Alien. (And, you know why? Because space is gay.) Look, I hate to be so obvious, but the Alien franchise really is one of my favorite horror franchises. While Alien Resurrection (1997) is the best fourth installment in any film franchise ever, I have to go with the first here, because Alien is a haunted house film in space. We have clearly established that I have a weakness for haunted house films, and when you mix in space, I’m a goner. On top of that, Alien has everything I need in a film: a badass woman hero
(Ripley is everything), a Final Cat ( Jonesy is an icon), the best extraterrestrial species in horror (beautifully designed by H. R. Giger and perfectly embodied by Bolaji Badejo), a great cast, chestbursters, and facehuggers.

THE THING (1982, John Carpenter)

Picking my favorite John Carpenter film is a nearly impossible task. I’m a Gen-Xer and all Carpenter’s films from the ‘80s— The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981), Christine (1983), Starman (1984), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988)—are fused into my life narrative. But I select The Thing for this list because I want to show that this dyke can love, genuinely love, a film with an all-male cast. (Queen Adrienne Barbeau’s disembodied computer voice doesn’t count as a character.) Plus, the film is riddled with queer subtext. Male penetration—check. AIDS metaphor—check. Homosexual panic—check. A group of men punished for their fear of homosexuality—check. And, of course, Rob Bottin’s A+ special effects. Hell yes. I revel in it all while gleefully drinking cup after cup of cishet masculine fear.


I vacillated between picking A Nightmare on Elm Street and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) because I love both films so much. Really, I love most of the franchise. The ‘84 Nightmare film is bleak, Nancy is one of my all-time favorite Final Girls, and Tina’s death is one of the best horror deaths. In Dream Warriors Freddy became one of my all-time favorite drag performers—a campy, quippy ‘80s media darling. When Kristen tenderly holds a dying Nancy, I cry. Like genuine tears. Plus, I heart Patricia Arquette. But, in the end, the original wins my heart for bringing Freddy into our dream world forever. And, yes, in a favorite slasher villain contest, I’d pick Freddy over Jason or Michael any day of the week. Oh, and I truly miss Wes Craven.

DEAD ALIVE (aka BRAINDEAD; 1992, Peter Jackson)

The horror genre is transgressive by its very nature and thus does not, and should not, adhere to rigid boundaries. Some of my favorite ‘horror’ films are equally funny or campy or musical (or all of the above—we’ll get to that). ‘Serious’ cinephiles or academics have ignored both horror and comedy, thinking both genres too lowbrow and populist for regard or study. I think that I am even more attracted to horror comedies because of their double stigmatization. There are so many that I love, going all the way back to Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). The subgenre has grown with awesome horror comedies like The Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987), zomedy Shaun of the Dead (2004), and meta-horror fest Cabin in the Woods (2011) . One of my favorite and most-watched films ever, Beetlejuice (1988), exists at a comedy-fantasy intersection under the horror umbrella (ella, eh, eh, eh)—and, yes, Beetlejuice IS horror. Instead of Beetlejuice here, though, I’m going with a different ‘strange and unusual’ boundary-blasting film: Dead Alive, which mixes horror, comedy, zombies, gore,
romance, and more. I have watched the 97-minutes of splatstick perfection of Dead Alive so many times I have lost count and I always laugh with joy at the ever-increasing gore, which culminates with one of the best filmic manifestations of the monstrous-feminine: Vera’s grotesque monstrous womb as it swallows her son whole. If I were ever to teach a horror course, Dead Alive would be the first film assigned because it is an accessible and fun intro to several major horror theories (abject theory, postcolonial theory, affect theory, and the monstrous-feminine). Plus Dead Alive is a bloody delight with beautiful practical effects, horror roots I wish Peter Jackson would return to, as in Bad Taste (1987) and Meet the Feebles (1989). I
could go on and on about my love for Dead Alive and, indeed, I do. Listen to me wax Dead Alive poetic for nearly an hour on the Fright School podcast here.

AUDITION (1999, Takashi Miike)

There are few films so surprising that my mouth is agape by the time the credits are rolling. The last time that happened to me was Martyrs (2008)—Martyrs was so singular an experience that, the moment the film ended, I immediately watched it again to be sure that I actually had seen what I thought I just saw. Audition, though, was the first film to lure me in gently only to deliver a shocking last act. Audition is both a critique of traditional ideals of Japanese femininity with their accompanying patriarchal constraints, and an exploration of childhood trauma from familial abuse. Twenty years ago when I first saw Audition, I didn’t know Takashi Miike’s work, nor did I know to expect (as I do now) that all bets are off in his films. I saw this film in the theatre and, by the time it was over, nearly a quarter the audience had been so horrified they had walked out. It actually now would feel surprising that people considered it so shocking just two decades ago. When I watch Audition today it almost seems tame, which speaks more to the increasing extremity in horror over this time. Even still, Asami “kiri kiri” Yamazaki is the feminist avenger of my dreams (especially after she dons the black rubber apron) and I love her childish glee as
she gets down to business. I will also forever love the actor Eihi Shiina who portrays Asami because she not only made her Audition costar lap up her actual vomit in a scene, but also dominates in Tokyo Gore Police / Tōkyō Zankoku Keisatsu (2008).

THE DESCENT (2005, Neil Marshall)

Some horror films actually, genuinely, scare the crap outta me. The Exorcist (1973) was the first to absolutely terrify me, and all these years later The Exorcist still gets me; to this day, if I accidentally stumble upon an image of Regan, my heart palpitates. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is another one that still affects me. And it turns out that the cannibalistic humanoid troglodytes in The Descent scare the crap outta me. Mix claustrophobia with darkness plus the fear of the unknown and you have a recipe for my anxiety to skyrocket and my pulse to quicken from a primal fear. The Descent is the story of six badass women on an adventure that goes terribly wrong. I love the fact that these women have emotional depth, that I can ‘feel’ the dynamics of relationships, and I am always bummed when they die, one by one (yes, I even feel badly for Juno). By the way, I much prefer the U.K. ending—I like my horror dark and my endings hopeless. The Descent assured I will never ever go spelunking but I’m completely okay
to stay with my above-ground horror realities.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008, Tomas Alfredson)

Really this list could and should be 666 movies long, in which case vampire films would be all over my list. On that List of the Beast, vampire films from the ‘80s would take up at least ten slots. Of all the horror subgenres, vampire films are deeply, inherently, and ‘always already’ queer stories. It pains me to leave off other queer vamp faves The Hunger (1983), Fright Night (1985), and The Lost Boys (1987). Here Let the Right One In gets my pick for speaking to the queer experience in a way that I find literally breathtaking. The cold, stark setting is beautifully composed and shot, with that bleak beauty speaking to the loneliness and isolation that many queers experience. It speaks to us queers directly also with its narrative built around the mistreatment of both Oskar and Eli, because so many queers face bullying, verbal harassment, and microaggressions on a daily basis. It further won a place in my heart and this tortuous all-time favorite list when Oskar asks Eli to be his girlfriend and Eli responds, “Oskar... I am not a girl.” Eli embodies multiple layers of nonnormative, queer existence; as a vampire, as someone who has lived as both a ‘boy’ and a ‘girl,’ and as someone who has “been twelve for a long time.” Let the Right One In is atmospheric and beautiful, thrilling and touching.

THE LURE (2015, Agnieszka Smoczynska)

This might be the queerest I get on this list and, as you know by now, I’m really queer. I freaking LOVE a horror musical. I credit The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) for this affinity. I watch Rocky Horror multiple times a year, and have every year since I was young. The reason that I did not select it for this list is that I don’t want to deal with all the horror gatekeepers “p’shawing” it as a horror pick. Anyways, I love horror musicals. Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Little Shop of Horrors (1986), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) are all high on my list. The Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode “Once More, With Feeling” (2001) is one of my faves and, hell, I’ve even watched Anna and the Apocalypse (2018) several times. But I was utterly and completely transfixed by The Lure the moment I saw it. It’s a post-soviet horror musical about man-eating mermaid sisters that takes place in the Warsaw disco club of my dreams. As well, Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s The Lure is the most audacious feature debut I’ve seen in quite some time—I really hope she gets to make many more bold, innovative
films. #teamgolden

SUSPIRIA (2018, Luca Guadagnino)

The last 5 years or so have delivered some of my favorite horror films ever: It Follows (2014), The Invitation (2015), Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017), Thelma (2017), Knife+Heart (2018), Us (2019), and Midsommar (2019). I’m so hopeful about this era of inclusive horror continuing as the genre reins are increasingly handed over to women, BIPOC, and queers. But my favorite of the era is a film that I was dubious about even existing in the first place, Suspiria (2018). When I heard that Luca Guadagnino was remaking Suspiria (1977), to say I was skeptical would be an understatement. But Suspiria (2018) is a perfect masterclass in how to reinterpret and recreate a beloved horror classic. In fact, I MUCH prefer this version. Go ahead, @ me. If you are a regular reader of Stacie’s writing, you don’t need me to go on and on about why. (And if you haven’t read all of Stacie’s posts about Suspiria, go read them now.) To tell you why I choose this Suspiria to be one of my favorite horror films of all time, I could take a lighter tone and talk about Susie and Madame Blanc eye-fucking each other across a restaurant table, or about how watching Tilda Swinton eating chicken wings might be my new kink. But this incredible film about a coven of witches deserves more teased out explanation, especially considering the current political situation here in the United States. Suspiria is queer art. Suspiria is feminist art. Suspiria is political art. Frighteningly, Suspiria as a filmic allegory about U.S. politics is even more relevant today than two years ago when it was released. Suspiria is about historical trends and, more specifically, about the dangers of fascism. While I love me some Helena Markos (with her squeals, sunglasses, and tiny baby arm), there’s a certain Cheeto in D.C. that shares more than a few fascist tendencies with Helena. We should heed Susie when she says: “Why is everyone so ready to think the worst is over?” Let Klemperer’s disbelief of women and inaction stand as a warning to us all: Go vote, and be ready to continue taking action (with masks!) if we need to.


Cappy said...

What a perfect, perfect list. So happy I got to read this today.

MorganAC said...

Space is Gay + Tilda Swinton eating chicken wings, just perfect.

Susandoku said...

The Uninvited and The Bad Seed should have both been on my list. The Bad Seed is so fucking good.

Jason Adams said...

This is SUCH a good list.

AE said...

This is a glorious list and I need to watch "The Lure" again.

Astroboymn said...

I love this list and wish I could have been a part of your queer spectatorship survey. This has all been just a wonderful read, thank you!

Glen said...

Interesting tidbit about the Lure. Poland has little to no history of making genre films (the big names you might associate like Polanski or Żuławski made all but their first films outside of the country), so when The Lure was released here, it wasn't advertised as horror or in any way fantastical. No image or mention of vampire mermaids anywhere in promotional materials--just a quirky dramady about nightclub singers. People who saw it in the cinemas on the basis of that were really confused. :)

CashBailey said...

Eli's gender is explained in graphic detail in the novel of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. It's a rather silly scene that was very wisely cut from the movie.

john said...

Can I resubmit my list and just copy-paste this one?