In an early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Dr. Forrester forces Joel and his robot friends to watch Catalina Caper, a cheap knock-off of the beach party pictures of the 1960s. Robot Tom Servo is instantly smitten at the sight of the dark-haired, ethnically indeterminate vixen who upsets the movie’s blonde, blue-eyed California surf scene. During a break from the movie, he expresses his love for her in a doo-wop ballad:
The Creepy Girl is a longstanding character in cinema. Dark hair and eyes, pale skin, and an unconventional fashion sense, often vintage and more formal than her teenage peers' tastes, give her an air of mystery and a sense of independence.
Lil Dagover, star of silent German Expressionist masterpieces like Robert Wiene’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Fritz Lang’s Destiny (1921), may be the earliest example. Even without the flaxen tresses and azure eyes of the Aryan ideal, she became one of Hitler’s favorite performers and endured a few dinner dates with him, despite her efforts to avoid any political entanglements during the war years.
Louise Brooks, a native Kansan, found similar success in Germany as a Creepy Girl in G. W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl (both 1929). Her trademark bob haircut, imitated by flappers around the world, set her apart in a fashion forward, rather than backward way. Unlike Dagover, Brooks was not content playing damsels in distress; on screen and in life, she gave herself a level of agency that modern women may admire, including control over her own sexuality.
Brooks, lost and found.
In the my lifetime, Winona Ryder became the leading Creepy Girl of the late 1980s and '90s. As Veronica in Michael Lehmann’s Heathers (1988), she battles the trendy, popular girls of her hypocrisy-ridden high school with withering sarcasm and hair and wardrobe that might have suited Natalie Wood. Foiling the plan of rebel Jason Dean (Christian Slater) - get it? - to blow up the student body at a pep rally shows audiences that she is not genuinely evil, though. Ryder’s roles in Beetlejuice (1988), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Alien: Resurrection (1997), and Girl Interrupted (1999) cemented her place in the monument to beloved Creepy Girls.
Ryder's Veronica is a Betty.
Christina Ricci may have the longest career as a Creepy Girl, beginning at age 11 with her role as Wednesday in The Addams Family (1991), the film version of the '60s tv show and print cartoons of Charles Addams. Since then, she has played a long series of irresistible oddballs, sometimes in explicitly supernatural stories like Sleepy Hollow (1999) and After.Life (2010), on other occasions playing more realistic outsiders, as in The Ice Storm (1997) and Monster (2003).
Ricci, dead or alive.
Cinema’s newest Creepy Girl is Mia Wasikovska, an Australian of partly Polish descent. Viewers may know her already as the troubled teenager in the HBO series In Treatment or as the title characters in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2008) and Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre (2010). She also received acclaim her for work in the indie comedy The Kids Are All Right (2010). Lately, though, she has taken some remarkably creepy turns.
Stoker (2013) is the English-language debut of Korean director Park Chan-wook, known mostly for his revenge trilogy’s second installment Oldboy (2004; remade in 2013 by Spike Lee; see the original). Stoker is Park’s tribute to Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Hitchcock’s declared favorite of all his films. Like Shadow, Stoker is the story of headstrong young woman, here named India — a foreign presence within her family, with hair and moods that run as black as the ink — whose insular home life is disturbed by the sudden arrival of her charming, but sinister Uncle Charlie. During his stay in the once happy household, she and her uncle grow closer, even as she begins to discover the dark secrets of his past. Unlike the Hitchcock film, however, Stoker does not end with a complete exorcism of evil forces and the restoration of wholesome family life. Visually, Stoker is full of the exquisite compositions, radical editing, and alternating scenes of quiet stillness and explosive violence that make contemporary Korean cinema so exciting. By similar turns, Wasikowska’s India, whose skirts and saddle shoes Hitchcock’s longtime costume designer Edith Head might have chosen, changes from vulnerable and immature to knowing and terrifying. Stoker is available on DVD from Netflix and instantly on Amazon and iTunes.
Wasikovska plays a supporting role in Only Lovers Left Alive (2014), Jim Jarmusch’s slow, cool vampire romance. His centuries-old bloodsucking couple, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), are not only ever-living, but also eternally chic and sophisticated in their attire, letters, and music. Detecting that he has grown weary of a world ruined by “zombies," their word for ordinary humans, she leaves Tangier for his hideaway in Detroit to restore his lust for the after-life. Although the movie belongs mostly to Swinton’s ultra-rad lady vamp and the cityscape of the undead Motor City, Wasikowska also makes a strong impression as Eve’s bloodthirsty little sister Ava, a shameless moocher, L.A. party girl, and troublemaker. All of the inwardness and brooding of India Stoker is gone; Wasikowska plays Ava as loud, grabby, and now-now-now. Teased blonde hair, tight clubwear, and plenty of skin complete the transformation. Yet her ready fangs and fondness for teasing mortals keep her character in the creepy zone. Only Lovers Left Alive is available on DVD from Netflix and instantly on Amazon and iTunes.
David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars contains Wasikovska’s most recent Creepy Girl. As an indictment of Hollywood through an ensemble of despicable characters, Maps recalls Robert Altman’s The Player (1992) and Shorts Cuts (1993). Julianne Moore even appears in both Short Cuts and Maps. Yet Cronenberg’s Canadian origins, his career as a largely independent filmmaker, and his fascination with flesh raise Altman’s cynicism to total savagery. At first, Wasikovska’s Agatha — “good girl”, etymologically — arrives in L.A. with the same desires and delusions of so many fame-seekers. But she cannot conceal the burn scars that cover much of her body, and the story of their origin soon emerges and engulfs a miserable child star, a New Age guru, and an aging, has-been actress. Wasikovska is almost unrecognizable under Agatha’s untidy bob — she’s not Louise Brooks’ Lulu — and in her cheap shirt, leggings, and the elbow-length rubber gloves that cover her burned arms. I watched the entire film with the feeling that I had seen her before, but I could not identify her; creepy, indeed. Agatha may be the creepiest of all Wasikovska’s characters: she struggles earnestly and awkwardly to make a success of herself and to do right by others, but the predation and poison of her surroundings confuse her, wear away her-self-control, and turn her good intentions into evil outcomes. Maps to the Stars is available on DVD from Netflix and instantly on Amazon and iTunes.
So long live cinema’s Creepy Girl. In one movie, she may penetrate the usual crowd and change their ways for the better. In an another, she may endure the taunts of others and finally escape to a more righteous environment. Even when she fails to make the scene, or when the mob destroys her in the end, at least she lives on her own terms, and this is reason enough to love and admire her. “Oh, Creepy Girl, beee miii-hi-yiine!”