Bitches! What are they like? Crazy, obviously, and Hollywood feels your pain. By now, film watchers are familiar with the motif of the crazy bitch. At first she looks like she fits into one stereotype, normally the carefree seductress and then, all of a sudden, she reveals a complexity that the male protagonist was not expecting – she wants to be more than just a cheap one night stand and she’s going to be all bolshy and insistent about it too. Naturally, the man baulks with horror but thinks it’ll be easy enough to convince her otherwise. And if she doesn’t get the hint at first, what’s the worst she can do? She’s only a woman.
Well, a lot as it happens. Crazy bitch characters move on from being an inconvenience and a source of social anxiety to out of control lunatic in the flick of an eyelash. Mallets are swung, bunnies are boiled, hostages are taken and shit gets monumentally real.
The original crazy bitch film is Play Misty for Me starring Clint Eastwood and Jessica Walter as Evelyn, an Edgar Allen Poe quoting, local radio phoning, bat shit bitch from the bowels of hell. Eastwood is a freewheeling bachelor and a local radio DJ who attracts the affections of hot, young Walter. After sleeping together, he promptly discards her, much to her chagrin thereby prompting a series of events which end with a frenzied knife attack and Jessica Walter plunging off a cliff.
The same sentiment is echoed in Fatal Attraction, the epitome of all crazy bitch films. Alex Forrest, played by Glenn Close, has a brief steamy affair with a married man who appears both intoxicated and as besotted with her as she is with him. Of course, reality sinks in and he drifts back to suburban comfort. When she discovers she is pregnant, he refuses to meet up to his responsibilities and her sanity unspools iconically all over his daughter’s bunny rabbit hutch. Thankfully, his wife gets in on the act and shoots the interloping hussy dead, thereby removing her rival and her husband’s unborn bastard child in one fell swoop.
Not all crazy bitch films have an ill-fated liaison as their genesis point. A twist on the genre is Misery, a truly terrifying film dominated by Kathy Bates in the most incredible performance of her career. Annie Wilkes does not fit the stereotype of the good time party girl at first, but an even deeper entrenched female role – the nurse. Paul, the ill-fated writer caught in an accident, is flattered, patronising and only slightly grateful for this woman taking him into his home and thoroughly expects himself to be nursed gently back to health and sent to go on his way. Instead, he finds himself confronted with an absolute raving psychopath. What role does Annie want to play? His co-writer, his muse, his mother, his lover? Paul and the audience have no idea and, apparently, neither does she. The terror of Misery stems from Paul’s helplessness, both physically and psychologically. He cannot move and he cannot fathom the best way to deal with his capricious demon whose moods and motivations veer wildly at the slightest provocation. In the end, his only recourse is violence.
What all of these films have in common is a woman who will not stay in the role the man assigned to her at first sight. Evelyn should have accepted the one night stand for what it was, Alex should have been the soul of discretion and Annie should have fixed Paul up and let him go free. Each of these women was supposed to be used and then discarded. Each of these women refused to go quietly. That’s what truly makes these horror stories – women not doing what the man expected them to do. (That and all the blood and unsuppressed psychotic rage). Eventually, they all die to restore equilibrium in the cinematic universe. In Hollywood, the best crazy bitch is a dead one.
The most contemporary of the crazy bitch film is a very different beast from these classics. Amy Dunne of Gone Girl is the crazy bitch wise to why she’s so crazy. She has tried to be the Cool Girl for her husband, she’s gone along with his every need and desire. She moved away from her life in New York, sank all of her savings into buying him a bar, put up with his apathy, his indifference and his cold complacency until, somewhere along the way, she grew tired of the act and started to act as she actually is, a human being, not a male fantasy. Naturally, her husband hates her for it and goes off with a younger model.
Of course, what a proper woman should do when a man takes your youth, your money, your dignity and discards you like a used wank rag is to remove yourself from the equation with grace and let him get on with things without you. “Bullshit,” thinks Amy, as well she might, “I’ll fake my own murder, frame him and land him on death row,” which isn’t where I’d have continued the line of thought, but you have to admire her ingenuity.
Amy knows every single trope of gender by rote and uses them to her advantage. In order to inflict maximum damage on her husband, she turns herself into the nadir of American media feminine gold – white, beautiful, rich, pregnant and a victim.
Gone Girl has come under fierce criticism for its apparent misogyny. This argument is centred on the fact that Amy is not a nice person and that she lies about sexual assault. This line of argument is bullshit. Not every woman portrayed on film should have to be an ambassador for the sex. Ironically, the women who would prefer to only see representations of their gender as the ‘good woman’ – honest, loving, high fliers in waiting and victims of nasty, brutish men – are parroting the same lines deftly exploited by Amy in the story.
Instead of becoming a victim of gender roles as her crazy bitch predecessors, Amy uses their grip on society for the purpose of wreaking havoc, and eventually getting her own way. What all these films have in common is a woman seeking to be more than the role she has been pigeonholed into. The result is mayhem. But while in the past, these Frankenstein’s monsters could have been easily sorted out with a bullet to the chest or a trip down a ravine, the modern day crazy bitch can’t be dealt with so easily.