10 Films to Watch in Anticipation of Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘The Neon Demon’


An evocative trailer dropped this week for Nicolas Winding Refn’s female-led horror film The Neon Demon . The Palme d’Or contender, starring Elle Fanning as an aspiring model in Los Angeles whose “youth and vitality [is] devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has,” deals with the familiar ingénue on a quest for fame and perfection trope, captured through Refn’s violent and stylish lens. Comparisons to other movies by film critics abound well before its release. In anticipation of The Neon Demon, here are ten films that share similarities with Refn’s movie and, perhaps, inspired the director’s surreal tale.


Dario Argento’s Technicolor nightmare, set at a German ballet academy where the women in charge are not quite what they seem, seduces with its vibrant color palette, vintage design, and woozy fairy tale. The Goblin score hypnotizes — an aural assault on the senses.

Black Swan

Also set in the ballet world, where, like the fashion world, waifish women are the most prized beauties, Darren Aronofsky’s film deals with identities we construct for ourselves as a coping mechanism. Black Swan‘s dark personification of anxiety and obsession as an otherworldly force licks at the heels of Natalie Portman’s tortured ballerina before consuming her completely.

Valley of the Dolls

“We describe the first half as a melodrama like Valley of The Dolls, and the second half is like Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It doesn’t seem to be a traditional horror film to me, but horror is the genre that it’s closest to,” Neon Demon composer Cliff Martinez said of the film. Valley of the Dolls, based on a 1966 novel by Jacqueline Susann of the same name, refers to the pills that its young female cast fall victim to as they embark on their lives and careers.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Marilyn Burns’ Sally Hardesty becomes trapped at the old Hardesty family homestead in Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror tale set in Central Texas. The deranged family of lunatic murderers gives her chase, and the final girl emerges from the ramshackle house shaken and bloody. Hooper’s movie isn’t nearly as violent as it seems, but the gritty composition and blaring title creates a chilling documentary feel.

The Hunger

Tony Scott’s erotic, glossy vampire tale stars fashion icons Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie as ancient undead lovers in New York City. The film’s love triangle narrative brings Sheridan le Fanu’s lesbian vampire trope into contemporary times, offering a female perspective on sex, romance, and isolation.

The Sentinel

A young model moves into a Brooklyn brownstone that turns out to be a gateway to hell in Michael Winner’s 1977 film The Sentinel. Her ghoulish neighbors prey upon her neurotic nature. The horror story deals with female anxiety similar to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, but focuses on the psychological pressures associated with the fashion world.

Blood and Black Lace

Mario Bava’s stylish and masterful Italian horror tale, set in a grandiose fashion house, shows the unraveling of a group of women as the body count linked to a whodunit mystery stats to rise. The film is fetishistic, claustrophobic, voyeuristic, and set a precedent for genre filmmakers like Dario Argento and Refn.

Eyes of Laura Mars

From Janet Maslin’s review of Irvin Kershner’s film, co-written by horror maestro John Carpenter, about a fashion photographer with a reputation for sensational photo shoots:

It’s the cleverness of “Eyes of Laura Mars” that counts, cleverness that manifests itself in superlative casting, drily controlled direction from Irvin Kershner, and spectacular settings that turn New York into the kind of eerie, lavish dreamland that could exist only in the idle noodlings of the very, very hip.

Starry Eyes

From DVD Talk on the desperation and obsession of a hopeful young starlet who pays a steep (Satanic) price for fame in Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s 2014 indie horror film Starry Eyes:

Sure, Hollywood may not be run by a satanic cult, but some shady shit goes down behind the scenes. Starry Eyes takes that idea and spins it on its head. What happens to Sarah is more than unfortunate, and she has to prove her worth to her new puppet masters. Essoe is really great in this, embodying both the fear and power of her character, and the filmmakers create a queasy mood from the first frames. The Astraeus darkness is spooky, but nothing compared to what Sarah becomes. The film is fitfully violent in the climax, which may bother some viewers, but the story warrants the release. At once a throwback to ’70s horror and a sardonic send-up of Hollywood, Starry Eyes is keenly aware of its message, frequently humorous, and — most important of all — frightening.

Mulholland Drive