Ti West’s X introduced Pearl (Mia Goth), a woman driven mad by her lust and yearning for youth that her husband attempts to hide from his unexpected boarding guests. She finds them anyway and satiates her desire with unhinged violence. Just how unhinged this killer is gets fleshed out further in the prequel Pearl, now available on Digital and out on Blu-ray on November 15, solidifying her ranks as one of horror’s most memorable female killers.
Female killers compensate for their scarcity in horror with unpredictability, cruelty, and infectiously deranged personality. It’s often obsession that drives them, providing fascinating motivations that can make them uncomfortably relatable. Like Pearl, these ten female killers aren’t afraid to unleash pain and have racked up impressive body counts along the way.
Annie Wilkes – Misery
There’s always something inherently terrifying about the plucky next-door neighbor types who deftly hides a depth of malice beneath that cheery veneer. Such is the case of Annie Wilkes, an avid romance reader who resorts to using words like “cockadoodie” instead of profanity. But Annie is a poster child for obsessive-compulsive disorders and many other mental issues. When she rescues her favorite author from a car accident, it sets off a chain of unhealthy behavior that results in a lot of pain and suffering for Paul Sheldon. Annie has a history of murder, and the infamous hobbling scene still comes as a genuine shock. In Stephen King’s novel, the scene is much worse – she chops off his foot with an axe and uses a blowtorch to cauterize the stump.
Annie Wilkes is toxic fandom personified.
Cheng Lai-sheung – Dream Home
Cheng Lai-sheung works two jobs to save enough money to buy her dream apartment with a stunning harbor view. When her dreams are crushed, Lai-sheung decides to keep them alive no matter the cost- including the lives of her neighbors. This bloody slasher puts the viewer in the killer’s shoes by telling her story out of order. Her dreams are entirely human and relatable until the pressures add on, and she snaps. That relatability makes the transition into an unhinged killer all the more effective. The nonlinear storytelling, shocking violence, and a complete upending of its Final Girl make this one a gory winner.
Marie – High Tension
Marie sets out to save her friend when she’s kidnapped by a vicious killer in Alexandre Aja’s breakout hit. True to its title, High Tension is one of the most intense cat-and-mouse games to watch unfold, and Marie’s desperation to save her friend is only rivaled by her fervent unrequited love for her best friend. Only once she finally does save her, Aja delivers one of horror’s most polarizing twists: Marie’s obsession with her best friend has split her psyche in two; the perverse killer was Marie all along.
Baby Firefly – House of 1000 Corpses
Baby likes to play. But playtime in the Firefly family is bad news for anyone else. She wants to don costumes and roleplay, which seems normal at first, but it usually results in maiming, scalping, and brutal stabbings for her playthings. The pain and torture she inflicts only worsens if you make her angry. The entire family is unhinged in House of 1000 Corpses, but Baby pulls double duty as a killer and as bait for the family’s many victims.
Lola Stone – The Loved Ones
If anyone thinks Carrie White is the prom date from hell, they haven’t met Lola. And Lola doesn’t handle rejection well. Like a lot of teen girls, Lola is a bit boy crazy. Unlike most, she works through those crushes by kidnapping the object of her desire and inflicting a mass heap of excruciating torture before lobotomizing them via drilled holes and boiling water. She then keeps them around to starve in her cellar. Lola is assisted by her father, who gives his little princess whatever her heart desires, no matter how dark and depraved that may be. Lola loves her daddy just a little too much, and the reveal of what she did to mommy will make your skin crawl.
Asami Yamazaki – Audition
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, or maybe just a seriously deranged woman with a mean jealous streak. Asami Yamazaki seems like the ideal wife for widower Shigeharu Aoyama, urged to date again by his teen son. She’s sweet and docile, and Aoyama enjoys her company. But signs slowly emerge that something is off about his new lady love. Digging into her past uncovers a trail of body parts and dead bodies. Even still, he’s not prepared for the wrath incurred when Asami finds a picture of his dead wife still on display in his home. Cue the piano wire, needles, and chilling giggles as she ensures Aoyama will never love anyone as much as he should love her. Maybe Aoyama shouldn’t have set up a mock audition for a new lover.
La Femme – Inside
A very pregnant Sarah is terrorized in her own home by an unnamed woman who will stop at nothing to take Sarah’s unborn child. La Femme, played by the fierce Beatrice Dalle, is downright primal. Her attacks on Sarah, and anyone else that may get in the way, are savage, and the blood splatters freely. La Femme’s motivation behind the attack stems from tragedy, but La Femme long moved past grief, and anger, into a primordial need that almost makes her feel “other.” She sustains injuries as if there’s no one home; that’s how much her goal drives her. In horror, there’s no one else quite like La Femme.
Julia Cotton – Hellraiser
On the surface, she may seem the prim and put-together wife of Larry Cotton, but underneath Julia Cotton is ruthless and unhinged. One brief affair with Larry’s husband, Frank, shortly after her wedding day sparked an insane obsession that not even a grotesque resurrection can quell. Any woman who can bear witness to the gloopy mess of a formerly dead person coming back together one sinew and artery at a time – and then proceeds to seduce victims for them – is not someone who can be reasoned with. Julia Cotton is ambitious, ruthless, and ice-cold. It’s a scary thought to be so flippant about assisting in the murder of multiple unsuspecting men, but it’s even scarier when it’s inspired by a skinless dead guy that somehow still stirs lust.
Mrs. Voorhees – Friday the 13th
In a genre where villains tend to be monstrous in visage, the reveal of Pamela Voorhees as the killer packed a potent punch. She’s your next-door neighbor or your friend’s grandma. Hers isn’t the face of a homicidal maniac capable of taking an ax to someone’s face or slitting throats. Except, she happily does these things with startling awareness. Pamela Voorhees’s unassuming appearance masks a psychotic killer underneath, an avenging monster stuck in an endless cycle. She’s a killer with entirely human and heartbreaking motivation, though; she’s unable to move past the tragic loss of her son. Like Norman Bates, there’s empathy for this murderess, even if it doesn’t make her any less unhinged. Mrs. Voorhees paved the way for other unhinged killers like Scream 2’s Mrs. Loomis.
Tiffany Valentine – “Chucky”
It’s fitting that Tiffany’s last name is Valentine, as her introduction brought something to the franchise that we never expected: love. Tiffany retrieves the remains of Chucky from police evidence and revives him via ritual in Bride of Chucky. The reunited lovers gleefully embark on another murder spree, proving the couple that slays together stays together. Except there’s no happily ever after in the realm of serial killers, especially when your sadistic lover places your soul in a doll body. Valentine continues to carve a path forward in pursuing true love in “Chucky.” She’s not just one of the most delightfully demented killers in horror but one of the most enduring as well.