Movies + TV

Bad Girls Do It Well

They’re not so nice. That’s why I love them.

When I was in middle school, I forced my two best friends to pretend to be in one of our favorite movies, Heathers, which is about a quartet of high school friends, three of whom happen to be named Heather. I was the bossiest, so I assigned the roles: Rosha, who was sweet and amenable to most things, was Heather #2. Olivia had brown hair (the horror!), and was therefore relegated to being Veronica (played by Winona Ryder, by the way). I assume I didn’t make her Heather Duke, the brunette Heather, because that Heather was played by Shannen Doherty, and Beverly Hills, 90210 was already on the air, making it far too desirable a part. (Brenda Walsh, Doherty’s character on 90210, is a patron saint of teenage bitchiness.) I, of course, was Heather #1. In my poor, demented brain, it was better to be the evil bitch queen than to be Winona Ryder. This shows both how foolish I was at the time (Winona Ryder always wins, always) and how persuasive a truly bad girl can be.

I’m happy to report that junior high was the peak of my cruel period, which wasn’t all that cruel. I think the worst thing I ever did was not invite someone to my birthday party. I did love being bossy, and if I’m being really honest, I still do. Still, now that I’m an adult and a mostly sane and even-keeled human being, sometimes I miss the part of me that wanted to dominate and destroy. I have no interest in that kind of drama in my real life, so I turn to fiction for a (mean) fix. Here are some fictional characters that I can always turn to for truly vindictive, delicious satisfaction. Don’t get the wrong idea—I don’t want to poison my friends with Drano, but I do want to live vicariously. These women help me channel all of my wickedness into the fictional zone.

The aforementioned Heather Chandler, Heathers (1988)
Heather Chandler uttered the immortal words “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw,” and won my heart forever. She claimed red as her power color, whether it was a croquet mallet or a scrunchie. I think my favorite thing about Heather Chandler is the disgusted look on her face when confronted with anyone outside her immediate social circle. This is popularity minus the sugary coating of friendliness—this is fear-mongering, pure and simple. As Heather puts it, the other kids at Westerberg High “all want [her] as a friend or a fuck.” I don’t think there are many accurate portrayals of the striving misery of high school, but this comes close. When in doubt, trust that the popular girls are plotting your demise.

Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca (1941)
The woman who runs Manderley, the great house at the center of Alfred Hitchcock’s mysterious masterpiece, is as restrained as Heather Chandler is wild. The plot of the movie is this: a sweet young woman meets a dashing rich guy on vacation, and marries him on the spot. When they get back to his house, the new Mrs. DeWinter has to deal with Mrs. Danvers, the head housekeeper, who was extremely attached to the last wife. Mrs. Danvers’s ink-black hair is pulled back into a tight braid wrapped around the crown of her head like some kind of funereal challah bread. Her evil witchiness mostly has to do with convincing the new Mrs. DeWinter that she is nowhere as good as the old one, the titular Rebecca. This is your basic black-and-white psychological warfare, with crazy-eyed manipulation up the wazoo. On a scale of 1 to 100, the creepy factor is 101.

Regina George, Mean Girls (2004)
If Heather Chandler has a true heir, it is Means Girls’ queen bee, Regina George. Regina manipulates, lies, and humiliates, all for her own amusement. She starts rumors and delights in their success. She tells her friends what they’re allowed to wear, say, do, and think: they can wear pink on Wednesdays, not Thursdays. One cannot wear sweatpants to school. When (spoiler alert) Regina gets hit by a bus at the end of the movie, the audience cheers. But do we not also cheer when she calls her ditsy friend Karen out for being a moron? We do. Because Tina Fey wrote this movie and is a genius, she gives Regina a soul in addition to a quick tongue. Fey understands that most mean girls operate out of a sense of self-consciousness, not undiluted cruelty, that there is a mean girl hidden inside all of us, and that that’s mostly OK. No mean girl’s reign lasts forever, but oh, there is glory at the top. The queen is dead, long live the queen.

Victoria Greyson, and Emily Thorne, Revenge (2010-present, ABC)
This summer, I fell head over heels for Revenge, an extremely melodramatic nighttime soap. The premise is this: Emily Thorne is exacting revenge on Victoria Greyson and her family for framing Emily’s father for terrorism. The reality is this: both of these women are completely psychotic, and it is great, great fun to watch. Here is a brief list of things that Revenge has taught me it’s relatively easy to do: frame someone for murder, frame someone for terrorism, set a house on fire, have a clambake, set up a tiny webcam shaped like a dolphin in everyone’s house without anyone’s ever noticing that they suddenly have a little dolphin on their mantel, get engaged, hack into other people’s computers. Madeline Stowe, who plays Victoria Greyson, has the kind of face that David Lynch should really be taking advantage of—she looks both beautiful and twisted, like she could peel off her Hamptons-society-lady mask at any moment and start speaking some ancient demonic language. Emily VanCamp, who plays Emily Thorne, has exactly the opposite problem and rarely displays a new facial expression, turning Thorne into a Kabuki character. Together, they’re magic, always staring at each other across a white tablecloth, legs crossed, hands neatly folded, looking like two schoolgirls. They never say a cruel word to each other’s faces, and yet the hatred oozes off them like a bad smell. Delightful.


Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Yes, yes, Meryl Streep is the best actress of the last 50 years, and she’s done Shakespeare in the Park, and she’s won Oscars, and she is basically a goddess, and everyone loves her. That’s all well and good, but my favorite part of Streep’s is her haughty, cold, and chic portrayal of a fashion-magazine editor in The Devil Wears Prada. She will school you on your dumpy cardigan, she will make you bring her coffee, she will roll her eyes when you fail, but good god, you will love her anyway. If I were Meryl Streep, I would wear my hair like that for the rest of my life, a silver wave always cresting over my forehead.

Jennifer, Jennifer’s Body (2009)
It is a crime that so few people went to see this movie. The marketing was all wrong—it was pitched as a horror movie for dudes who thought Megan Fox was hot, when it should have been pitched as a follow-up to Heathers, a movie about what happens when teenage girls are actually demons. In this movie Jennifer persuades boys to follow her into the woods, where she can snack on their internal organs. It’s a hilarious movie, and if all goes according to my master plan, will become a camp classic, shown at midnight screenings at art house cinemas around the globe, Rocky Horror style.

Patsy and Edina, Absolutely Fabulous (1992-2012, BBC)
They smoke, they drink, they pop pills, they never think of anyone other than themselves. They wear Lacroix, they ignore Edina’s bookish daughter, they go on holiday. They’re the self-obsessed BFFs from one of the UK’s best television comedies of all time. This is pure, unadulterated escapism. Patsy and Edina are cruel and merciless, but take away their vodka and ciggies and they’re reduced to heaps on the floor, unable to move. They don’t mean to be wicked, they just can’t help it.


If all of these women were in a room together, the room would spontaneously combust. That’s what I love about them—they are fiery and potent, unwilling to compromise. I think that’s why I turn to them—it’s not only the drama that I lack in my own life, it’s the way that all of these women are willing to do whatever they need to do in order to get shit done. They are ambitious, and fierce and strong. The next time I think, oh, I’ll just go with the flow and see what everyone else wants to do, I’m going to channel Heather Chandler and say, “You know what? Croquet at my house, babies. Love it or leave it. The choice is yours.” ♦

38 Comments

  • filmfatale September 14th, 2012 7:28 PM

    I love Meryl Streep in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, but a small part of me wishes that Tilda Swinton played Miranda Priestley.

  • Emma S. September 14th, 2012 8:26 PM

    Tilda would have been AAAMMMAAAZING.

  • suburban grrrl September 14th, 2012 8:26 PM

    “Rebecca” is a great movie, but I always kind of cringe when I watch Mrs. Danvers’ character. She was a Hayes Code-trope, the obsessive and evil lesbian, even though they’d obviously never be directly called one. Characters like her appeared in a lot of pulp films. Because, naturally, all lesbians are crazy and obsessive.

    http://sub-urbangrrrl.blogspot.com/

    • Chimdi September 15th, 2012 2:40 AM

      I don’t know about the specific trope that you’re talking about, but I feel like most of these female characters are tropes.

      I wish there could be like a movie about Sor Juana here or something(although she is too problematic as a feminist role model). These movies sort of just reinforce internalized misogyny… I’m not hating on Rookie, I just look at too much media criticism to be able to ignore these things :)

      It would have been cool if this article had been about girls who were “bad” by ignoring gender roles and forging a path for themselves in the world instead of movies about women disliking and fighting one another. In the review for Revenge, Emma Straub even describes both of the women as “psychotic”…

      I think it’s ok to love misogynistic media, but you also need to be constantly aware that the media you’re consuming is misogynistic. I feel inclined to link to bell hooks, but I think I have preached to the choir enough…that is just something I wanted to say Rookie, I still love you and everything :)

    • Lascelles September 15th, 2012 8:23 AM

      Hays, not Hayes. Suburban grrrl, I really think Rebecca is more than a code trope. The writer was a closeted, lesbian (see link). Hitchcock, who has his own problems, actually played up the lesbian over tones. It’s a not a story (it was a novel) that was a perfect example of censorship; it’s the perfect story about a deeper kind of self repression. In the end, it looks the same, but I really think the original source matters. Not to go waaaay too Freudian on yah but the distinction is Rebecca is a story of a man, Hitchcock, actually spotlighting the self censorship the writer was doing herself. Hitch was probably just being sadistic and it’s kinda, maybe worse than just censorship but I find it really watchable. At the very least, it’s true and obvious, where censorship often never is. Personally, I watched A LOT of Hitchcock as a kid. I did not have a clue what was going on but when I understood Hitchcock was a genius but at some deep level probably, really hated women, Rebecca was the only film by him I could actually re-watch or recommend. Anyway, hope my view makes you take a second look.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daphne_du_Maurier#Secret_sexual_relationships
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2189210/Being-object-Alfred-Hitchcocks-obsession-horrific-says-Birds-star-Tippi-Hedren–ruined-career-ruin-life.html

  • actressgirl September 14th, 2012 8:31 PM

    You forgot about Valerie Malone. After awhile you just wanted to see her destroy Kelly. Alas, it never happend.

  • Emma S. September 14th, 2012 8:36 PM

    I always had a soft spot for Valerie, given how many hours I spent watching her be Kelly Kapowski.

  • katrinaexplainsitall September 14th, 2012 8:48 PM

    The mean girls in movies are always my favorites. Part of me wants to roundhouse kick them in the face and another part of me wants to have their charisma and snarkiness ~

    http://www.katrinaspice.blogspot.com

  • poursomeglitteronit September 14th, 2012 8:58 PM

    Awesome article. Just wanted to say that, while I haven’t seen the movie version of Rebecca and therefore can’t comment on it, in the book Mrs. Danvers definitely doesn’t fit the “evil lesbian” stereotype (to be honest I wasn’t aware there even was such a thing). She raised Rebecca from infancy and was obsessed with her in a very maternal way. She was still super creepy though, and I would totally recommend the book if you like evil characters.

  • MissKnowItAll September 14th, 2012 8:58 PM

    Regina George is my spirit animal. just saying

  • victoria September 14th, 2012 9:50 PM

    Absolutely
    Fabulous
    is
    the
    best
    show
    ever
    thank you

  • kendallkh September 14th, 2012 9:55 PM

    yesss. i love mean girl stuff. i’m not even ashamed to admit that i’m rereading the clique right now for that very reason… i lived vicariously through massie block in fifth grade. (who am i kidding i still do.)

  • bethleeroth September 14th, 2012 10:12 PM

    DANVERS! HELL YES!

  • kruisin September 14th, 2012 11:03 PM

    OMG I’m so glad you like Revenge! My BFF and I luuurrrvvve it but I never hear or see anyone else talk about it!
    “set up a tiny webcam shaped like a dolphin in everyone’s house without anyone’s ever noticing that they suddenly have a little dolphin on their mantel,”
    This always freaks me out. Like WTF you don’t see that EFFING dolphin on your mantel, what the hell is wrong with you people? I guess they don’t notice cause they are all rich and had interior decorators buy and arrange their possessions, that’s my take on it.

  • ivoire September 14th, 2012 11:10 PM

    revenge is unfortunately addicting. and god regina george is one sassy bitch.

  • angst September 14th, 2012 11:29 PM

    I was, like, nine when I fist saw The Devil Wears Prada, and it was during a time when I was beginning to think that being popular mattered a lot more than it did and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I thought that her bitchiness was the coolest thing ever. I wanted to order someone to get me coffee, even though I didn’t like coffee, or get my kids a new Harry Potter before it came out.
    Now whenever I see it it sends forth a surprisingly intense wave of nostalgia.

    http://onmyroadtofindout.blogspot.com/

  • Lascelles September 14th, 2012 11:41 PM

    Manderley, not Manderly. I only noticed because there is a really strange film called Manderlay about an American estate but I don’t recommend it. Lars von Trier is weird. Daphne du Maurier is cool though. She also wrote Birds which Al also made into a great movie. The creepy-ness is really real. If you read their bios, there is a ton of issues they need to work out… HBO is making a movie about the making of Birds actually. So strange. Anyway, nice list :D

  • Miarele September 15th, 2012 2:48 AM

    REVENGE!!! <333 The clothes in the show are deliciously fierce too. Victoria and her obsession with bandage dresses, anyone?

  • Chloe P. September 15th, 2012 3:45 AM

    i’m so glad someone else thinks Jennifer’s Body is hilarious in a cult movie sort of way. The lines in that film are sucks classics!

  • farawayfaerie September 15th, 2012 4:26 AM

    HEATHERS!!! so creepy and weird and AMAZING. love it.

  • WitchesRave September 15th, 2012 9:02 AM

    I adore Jennifers Body, definately think it’ll be remembered with the likes of Mean Girls in years to come

    witches-rave.com

  • limegreensunset September 15th, 2012 9:08 AM

    YES. AB FAB. MY LIFE IS MADE.

  • ShockHorror September 15th, 2012 9:43 AM

    I did a weirdly gruff ‘YEESSS’ when I saw Edina and Patsy. Woopwoop!

    Bubbles from AbFab is definitely my style icon.
    :L

  • Pashupati September 15th, 2012 10:02 AM

    “If all of these women were in a room together, the room would spontaneously combust.”
    Somebody, please write a fanfic.

    • Pashupati September 15th, 2012 10:05 AM

      I can’t because I only saw two of these.

  • Devon Wolf Sings September 15th, 2012 1:09 PM

    Oh my gosh, Jennifer’s Body is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. My best friend and I jointly purchased it about a year ago and we hadn’t seen it yet. It was a decision we have never regretted.

  • coolcatmew September 15th, 2012 2:00 PM

    Regina George, by far my favorite bad girl! i can practically quote that whole movie!!!

  • TessaTheTeenageWitch September 15th, 2012 7:52 PM

    “Did you ever see anything so delicate. Look, you can see my hand through it.” – Mrs Danvers

  • Brodie September 16th, 2012 4:12 AM

    My comment is taking the form of a haiku:

    Emma, your love of
    Jennifer’s Body stole my
    bitter heart. Oh, girl.

  • BloodFlowers September 16th, 2012 4:13 PM

    I lovelove revenge, I can’t wait for season 2! The season finale was super intense. Defiantly a big fan :)

  • musicsaves September 16th, 2012 5:26 PM

    Mean Girls, LOL.

  • Emma S. September 16th, 2012 6:38 PM

    You are the coolest, brodie. Swoon.

  • dramallama September 16th, 2012 9:35 PM

    Is it bad that I want to be Patsy when I’m older? Probably, actually.

  • Emelie September 17th, 2012 7:36 PM

    The really interesting thing I see in this list of characters is that these are all really powerful women/girls. Ok, it’s power used towards usually petty and cruel ends, but they’re still almost always the most powerful character in their respective films.

    Which is awesome, because I’m always on the look-out for powerful (female) characters who run the show and aren’t afraid to cause chaos. My question though, is can we think of any really powerful ladies in films/books who are powerful without being kind of evil? They’ve got to be out there, right?

  • HayleyBK September 18th, 2012 9:39 AM

    Heather Chandler is by far the worst–anyone who can say “Gag me with a chainsaw” gets my vote–but I just wanted to add Nellie Oleson. Ohhh, she tormented my dreams as a kid the way she clamored after and mean-girled Laura Ingalls. The original Single White Female from hell.

  • illonablyton September 19th, 2012 7:27 AM

    Mean Girls, Revenge and Meryl Streep all in one post? Great!

  • DreamBoat September 23rd, 2012 1:34 AM

    OHEMGEE HEATHERS + AB FAB = LITERALLY THE BEST THINGS EVER.

    http://psychedelicdaisy.blogspot.com/