A selection of the most alluringly deranged female killers in the film world.
The lure of dangerous and duplicitous women probably found its enduring appeal during the film noir period of the 1940s and 1950s but I’m not sure even the most amoral of the femme fatales from that era could be categorized as psychos. Sexy female screen psychos are generally a more modern phenomenon, maybe because the requisite level of sex and violence needed to create them was only available to filmmakers after the relaxation of censorship standards in the sixties – but as you will see there are a few exceptions to this rule. This collection of sexy psychos is from an unavoidably male perspective, but if there is a female writer out there inspired to do a list of the sexiest male psychos in response to this, I would really like to read it.
There are unavoidably going to be spoilers aplenty here… and no offence is intended. After all, it takes a talented actress to make evil look this alluring.
Sue Ann Stepenek (Tuesday Weld) in Pretty Poison
When we first see Sue Ann Stepenek, she is marching with her school band, being quietly observed by Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins), a disturbed young man just released from a mental hospital after accidentally murdering his aunt in a house fire several years prior. But things are not what they seem. The casting of Perkins, who was best known for playing Norman Bates in Psycho, deliberately wrongfoots the audience. Dennis may make false claims to be a government agent but he is no real threat, just a fantasist spinning stories to impress the girl he likes. Sue Ann Stepenek is the real deal, a cold-blooded, manipulative psychopath hiding in plain sight behind the façade of a blonde All-American teenager, and Tuesday Weld’s performance is unforgettable. The scene in which she drowns the security guard by straddling his back, responding in a sexual way to his death throws before enticing Dennis to make out with her is one of the great, ‘did they really just do that’ moments from Sixties cinema. Dennis doesn’t stand a chance. Sue Ann casually shoots her mother and gets away with it, he gets the blame and is sent back to the mental hospital hoping someone will eventually realise what he already knows… she will just continue killing. In 1968 at a time of great upheaval in America, Sue Ann Stepenek perfectly embodied the dark heart that lay beneath the surface of the American dream, even if it does look a lot like an attractive blonde cheerleader.
Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino) in The Last Seduction
While there are no characters from the classic period of film noir on this list, the coolly amoral Bridget Gregory is definitely cut from the same cloth, the definitive modern-day femme fatale, and she’s a killer when it counts. After her husband (Bill Pullman) slaps her, Bridget responds by stealing the money he just acquired from a drug deal and heads off to small-town America, almost immediately taking up with a dumb lunk (Peter Berg) that she picks up in a bar. When her husband’s private investigator starts to close in on her and the stolen money, she needs a way out. There isn’t an ounce of sincerity in anything Bridget does, it’s all in service of her endgame. She manipulates her new boyfriend into killing her husband so they can both disappear with the money, but when he can’t go through with it she casually does it herself before goading him into sexually assaulting her, thereby framing him for her husband’s murder and her rape. Like Kathleen Turner in Body Heat she gets away with it – and the money she coveted all along – but what makes Bridget different from her is that she has no remorse for her actions at all. To her, the men she meets are all just hapless pawns in her master plan. John Dahl’s film was originally made for cable TV, and as a result, Linda Fiorentino’s strong central performance was ineligible for an Oscar.
Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) in All The Boys Love Mandy Lane
On the surface of it, All The Boys Loved Mandy Lane appeared to be just another run-of-the-mill slasher film when it was released in 2006, but a twist towards the end of the film actually made this the trickiest subversion of the slasher film since Scream. Mandy Lane is the virginal object of everyone’s desire, and when she is invited to a house in the country for the weekend, all the boys make their play for her until a hooded psycho puts a crimp on their plans. The killer is revealed early on to be Mandy’s misfit friend. Only at the end do we find out that both he and Mandy are both in on the killing spree, set in motion to make them famous after their mutual suicide… but then she turns on her accomplice, killing him as well. What is motivating Mandy is unclear. In the opening scene, the camera delights in caressing her body in close-up just as the eyes of the boys watching her walk down the corridor do. There is the suggestion that it is male desire or the male gaze itself that is fuelling her mania. Mandy Lane is simultaneously the outsider, the prom queen, the final girl and the killer, making her one of the slasher genre’s most complex scream queens and one of its most interesting objects of desire.
Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama) in Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Gogo Yubari is a schoolgirl to make even the residents of St. Trinian’s run for cover, a genuine grade-A lunatic and O-Ren Ishii’s personal bodyguard in Quentin Tarantino’s blood-soaked revenge thriller. She’s an instantly iconic creation, but what is really shocking about the character is just how little time she is actually on screen. Apart from the memorable face-off with Uma Thurman’s Bride in the film’s extended climax, her only other significant scene is the flashback that demonstrates just how insane she is, casually eviscerating a young man who has the temerity to try and pick her up in a bar. Unfortunately, Gogo is disposed of way too casually. In a perfect world, the Bride’s bloody death blow would have turned out to just be merely a flesh wound, enabling her to perpetrate further misdeeds in her very own spin-off movie.
Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) in Black Narcissus
A Technicolor masterpiece made by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger is not the first place you would expect to find a sexy psycho, but Kathleen Byron’s Sister Ruth is exactly that. A group of English nuns take up residence in a palace high in the Himalayas, but as the unfamiliarity of life there takes its toll and their sense of isolation increases, hysteria begins to take hold and Sister Ruth is the first to crack. Her psychosis is revealed when Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) visits her room out of concern and discovers her dressed in civilian clothes applying the most vibrant red lipstick you’ve ever seen. It’s a normal, everyday moment rendered both shocking and erotic in the context. When the man for whom she leaves the order rebuffs her advances, she mistakenly believes it’s because he is in love with Sister Clodagh and, half-crazed, returns to the palace to take revenge on her. When she emerges from the shadows at the climax intent on pushing her from the bell tower, she looks like a vengeful wraith, pale and uncanny, the personification of all of the nun’s repressed desires. It’s an amazing transformation, both sexy and terrifying, and a memorable performance from Byron.
Virginia (Jill Banner) in Spider Baby
Jack Hill’s classic black & white cult movie Spider Baby is essentially the darker, more twisted flip side of The Addams Family TV show, which was made around the same time. The tone of the film is blackly comic and the influence of Charles Addams is apparent, but its blend of sex and horror is still quite provocative and a large part of this is down to Jill Banner’s striking performance as Virginia, the Spider Baby of the title. Banner plays the youngest of the film’s three siblings, all afflicted by a strange degenerative illness. She likes to roam the house in search of victims to ensnare in her spider web before stinging them with two large kitchen knives she carries around. The scene in which she ties up her uncle, sits on his lap and taunts him in an overtly sexual way so that his “juices will taste better” is still an unsettlingly erotic scene when viewed today. Banner also appeared in another cult classic, Theodore J. Flicker’s The President’s Analyst. She tragically died in a car accident in August 1982 aged just 35.
Dallas (Paulina Porizkova) in Thursday
From the moment she appears on screen wearing a high school letter jacket with the word ‘CUNT’ proudly emblazoned across the back, you just know that Dallas is trouble, and that’s before she shoots the cashier of the convenience store in an argument over a free Danish. That could almost have been enough, but the scene that cements her position on this list is when she arrives at the house of former associate Casey Wells (Thomas Jane) in a red rubber dress while he is being interviewed about the possibility of adopting a child and proceeds to destroy the new life he has made for himself. She tells the adoption agent about how she once starred in a porn movie and then reveals the facts about Casey’s involvement in a drug massacre before tying him to a kitchen chair at gunpoint and forcing him to have sex with her, carefully positioning a photo of his wife on the table next to them. As with a few other alluring psychos on this list, she too comes to a sticky end way too soon. Like Gogo Yubari, she should also have had her own spin-off movie.
Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1
The appeal of Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter saga is something best kept as a secret if you have children… they won’t forgive you. As Lord Voldemort’s loyal servant, she has perpetrated all kinds of wickedness. She tortured Neville Longbottom’s parents to the point of insanity, she tortured Hermione Granger for fun and she killed not only Sirius Black but also Dobby the house-elf… I mean, what a bitch! Despite all this she still looks fantastically sexy, a large part of this being down to Helena Bonham Carter’s insane Goth nightmare take on the character J. K. Rowing created. Her villainous rampage was eventually halted by Molly Weasley in the final film, but many of us were sad to see her go. If you are a dad who has had to feign outrage at her evil antics for the benefit of your children while secretly harbouring an ‘appreciation’ for her character, we here at The Reprobate sympathise. Your secret is safe with us.
Jody Dvorak (Ann-Margret) in Kitten With A Whip
Kitten With A Whip could almost be described as a juvenile delinquent retelling of the Goldilocks And The Three Bears story, that’s if Goldilocks killed the bears, skinned them and paraded around town in the furs. Jody Dvorak is a 17-year-old who escapes from the juvenile detention facility she was held at by setting fire to the dormitory, stabbing the matron in the process. With the cops in pursuit, she hides out in the home of David Stratton (John Forsythe), a family man with political ambitions. After discovering her, she spins him a sob story and he is initially sympathetic, buying her some new clothes and driving her to the bus station only for her to repay his acts of kindness by invading his home and with threats of blackmail before inviting her three delinquent friends to the party. Ann-Margret, who was 23 at the time, was more commonly associated with light-hearted fare in which she got to show off her dancing skills such as Bye Bye Birdie, the Elvis Presley musical Viva Las Vegas – made the same years as Kitten With A Whip – and the later Murderer’s Row, but to be honest, there was already a slight element of psychosis in the dance routines she performed in all those films. Here the madness is on full display. The first 40 minutes of the film are the strongest, with her performance swinging wildly between maniacal and supremely sexy. When the friends turn up, the film loses its intensity, but Ann-Margret is a stunning presence throughout. Unlike most of the other women on this list, her character does ultimately find redemption, though it is following a fiery car wreck in which almost everyone dies.
Selina Kyle / Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) in Batman Returns
It’s something missed by most people that even before Selina Kyle is transformed into the PVC-clad feline supervillain, her mousey put-upon assistant is already nuts. After Batman has saved her from being attacked, she takes sadistic pleasure in using a taser to repeatedly shock her assailant even though he is unconscious. When she is pushed to her death by her boss Christopher Walken and becomes Catwoman, her craziness just increases. She saves a woman from being attacked only to taunt the victim, annoyed by her need to be saved. She blows up a department store and engages in a perverse courtship with Batman that is nothing short of kinky, licking his face during a fight while also purring that she wants to “play an integral part in his degradation.” Complete with dialogue laced with double entendres, it’s a slinky performance, one that eclipses even Julie Newmar’s in the original TV series, and something that Michelle Pfeiffer has rarely come close to equalling. It makes Anne Hathaway’s take on the same character in The Dark Knight Rises seem a little flat by comparison.
Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin) in Romeo Is Bleeding
Appearing the same year as The Last Seduction, Lena Olin’s Mafia hit woman Mona Demarkov is effectively the demented flip-side of Linda Fiorentino’s cool, calculating Bridget Gregory. Gary Oldman is the corrupt cop taking mob pay-offs for information on the location of witnesses, but when Mona Demarkov wipes out four cops along with a witness, the two of them become locked in a battle of wits as they try to outmanoeuvre each other. The problem is that Oldman’s cop has a wife and a dream for a future life… Mona’s actions border on nihilism. Whether she wins or loses doesn’t seem to matter. She thinks nothing of manipulating him into killing his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) or of cutting off her own arm to fake her own death. She forces him to bury her Mafia boss alive and then frames him for the murder. Oldman does ultimately put a stop to Mona, gunning her down in the courthouse lobby, but he flushes his entire life away in order to do it. Everything she does seems to be infused with a sexual component, and to be honest she’s so psychotic that her death is a relief. She is a truly terrifying creation and probably the most extreme femme fatale the cinema has yet produced.
Bell (Ana De Armas) in Knock Knock
When a well-meaning architect Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves) invites two stranded young women in out of the rain, he has no idea of what’s in store. Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bell (Ana De Armas) seem nice enough, and with his wife and daughter out of town for the weekend they quickly coerce him into a ménage à trois. Come the morning, the guilt-ridden family man can’t get them out of the house quickly enough, but they quickly return and spend the rest of the movie making his life a living Hell. Eli Roth’s Knock Knock is essentially a remake of Peter S. Traynor’s 1976 film Death Game featuring Sondra Locke & Colleen Camp as the psychopathic teen duo, but it’s also the latest variation of a scenario first used in Kitten With A Whip, but refined Chris Warfield’s 1973 film Little Miss Innocence in which two possibly underage girls, Sandy Dempsey & Terri Johnson, experiment with the idea that you can screw a man to death. Taken together, the remakes and rip-offs that followed constitute a full house of psychotic women Keir-La Janisse would be proud of… but Bell stands out. Seemingly the more innocent of the two girls, Bell is a lunatic. The duo commit casual murder, trash the man’s house and deface his family photos and his wife’s artwork, but it’s her who forces Webber to have sex while dressed as a schoolgirl so they can film the hijinx in order to blackmail him. It’s an amazing feat on Ana De Armas’s part that through all the carnage Bell remains completely adorable. In fact, when they bury him up to his neck in the garden at the end of the film while making him watch the sex footage they filmed now posted on his social media for everyone to see, you’re kind of on their side. It’s easy to see why her reputation has grown in the years since appearing here. An honourable mention should also go to Sandy Dempsey in Little Miss Innocence where all this trouble began.
Monika (Monika M.) in Nekromantik 2 (1991)
Jörg Buttgereit’s 1987 film Nekromantik ended with what we assumed to be Robert’s girlfriend (Beatrice Manowski) about to retrieve his body, but in this sequel, the high-heeled grave robber turns out to be a new corpse lover, this time played by Monika M. A fan of Robert and his posthumous antics after reading the news reports following his suicide, Monika decides to steal the body and experiment with the deceased for herself, much to his former girlfriend’s frustration. She takes the body back to her flat but he is in such an advanced state of decay that she has to work out a new solution, one that ultimately involves her new boyfriend, played by Mark Reeder. Buttgereit’s sequel is a much slower, more contemplative film than his taboo-trashing original, and one that proved more popular with female genre fans on its release. Actress Monika M. is very beautiful in the film, and a large part of its power comes from Buttgereit’s contrasting of her beauty with some extremely icky nastiness. Though the individual approaches the films take could not be more different, Monika is a lot like the necrophile played by Molly Parker in Lynne Stopkewich’s Kissed, just considerably more proactive. And like Kissed there is something genuinely romantic about Monika’s quest; it’s just that Parker’s character didn’t opt to decapitate her new boyfriend during sex in order to use his severed head to consummate her relationship with her ideal lover’s decaying corpse. Love makes you crazy I guess.
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Honourable (or perhaps dishonourable) mention: Diana Rigg and/or Anya Taylor-Joy in Last Night In Soho; personal favourite above is the gifted actress Tuesday Weld, a controversial, mercurial and often mysterious individual both on and off the screen who had opportunities to appear in major, big budget movies (such as Bonnie and Clyde) but rejected them all, preferring more independent-minded movies such as Pretty Poison, which was probably her greatest film performance, getting on well with Tony Perkins during the shoot (with them working together a few years later in another independent film, Play As It Lays), but intensely disliking director Noel Black, who never reached such heights after Pretty Poison, his first and best feature film.
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