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Noteworthy Heroines of Horror: Karen from Congo

Noteworthy Heroines of Horror is a recurring segment on Wicked Horror where we shine the spotlight on a female character from the annals of horror history that has made a significant contribution to the genre. The characters we select may not be the obvious final girls that regularly grace top ten lists, but their contributions to the genre are meaningful and worthy of note.

Okay, hear me out on this one. I know that Congo probably isn’t considered even remotely horror, but for me, it does fall into one of my favorite subgenres of film: animals run amok. It’s based on the Michael Crichton novel of the same name, and thought the result is a somewhat cheesy action flick, I really love it, and 20 years later, it is still immensely entertaining and fun. And while I was catching up with it again recently, I realized that one character actually fits in perfectly with this Noteworthy Heroines of Horror feature, and that is Dr. Karen Ross, played by Laura Linney.

Laura Linney as Dr. Karen Ross in the 1995 killer gorilla film Congo

First of all, the entire cast of Congo is quite impressive. You have Tim Curry, Dylan Walsh, Ernie Hudson, Joe Don Baker, Bruce Campbell, and then Linney as the only female other than Amy, the talking gorilla. Linney went on to have much more prominent and powerful roles in films like Primal Fear, The Truman Show, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but the chops are all there in Congo. She more than holds her own as an actress against everybody else, and especially as a character. Karen Ross is confident, fearless, and proactive in every single situation she is put into in this movie. She has the power and the resources to accomplish her mission and she uses them, along with her own tenacity, to really save the day at the end.

Karen works for the hi-tech communications company TraviCom. She is sent into the Congo by her boss after it looks like something terrible has happened to the people already there on an expedition to procure a rare diamond, including Charles (Campbell), the boss’s son and Karen’s ex-fiancé. She provides a cover for her own expedition by financing the trip for Dr. Peter Elliot (Walsh), a primatologist who is returning his gorilla Amy to her home in the Congo. Karen has the entire backing of TraviCom for the trip and continually uses it to help move the group along, providing all her company’s nifty gadgets and toys that prove to be extremely helpful over the course of the film. And while her boss only seems to care about getting the diamond that will make their new laser work, Karen is doing all of this for a much more noble reason–to save the people, especially Charles, who might still be alive and lost in the jungle.

When several situations get hairy for our characters, Karen never once shows fear or hesitation to do what needs to be done. She successfully bribes a powerful militia leader after they are detained at the airport. When their plane into the rainforest is being shot down, Karen busts open the doors and intercepts the missiles with a flare gun to buy them time, and then without a second thought parachutes out of the plane when other characters have to be coerced or even pushed out. She’s the first one to shoot when they encounter one of the deadly grey gorillas upon entering the ruins of Zinj. Karen tells Peter that she is their “last line of defense” against these animals, and it’s completely true. After setting up the perimeter at their camp site, and as they are being surrounded by even more gorillas, Karen totes a machine gun with all the rest of the guys–except for Peter and Homolka, who cower in their tents–to try to kill them. And of course, it is her company’s sweet laser gun that she wields which helps the group to escape the mine full of gorillas as the volcano is erupting.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Karen’s character, and the movie in general, is the fact that nobody gives a shit that she is a woman. It is never brought up once. There are no silly comments from any of the male characters about how a woman shouldn’t be in the Congo or can’t handle herself because she just does, and they all immediately accept her without hesitation. Karen herself never gives them a reason to think otherwise. She doesn’t complain about the conditions they are in; doesn’t show any signs of wanting to turn back when it gets dangerous; and is always one of the first people to step up and defend the group. Travis makes a comment that she’s been in the field before, so this is not her first rodeo, and her expertise shows this. Hey, she also used to be in the CIA, although she can’t really tell you that.

Karen communicates with her boss via satellite during her expedition in the Congo.But Karen is not just a greedy, emotionless tech junkie. At the beginning of the film, she makes her boss promise her that she’s not being sent to the jungle only for the diamond, but for Charles and the rest of the people on the previous expedition. Her heart is in the right place and it stays there for the rest of the movie as they get closer and closer to finding out what happened. She is genuinely only there for the people, despite the wealth of diamonds they come across inside the mine. Karen doesn’t care about that, and is heartbroken when they find the others dead. When her boss doesn’t show the same level of concern for his own son, Karen makes good on her earlier threat to make him sorry by using one of his precious diamonds to take out TraviCom’s satellite. As an added punch, she has Peter throw away this only diamond as they are escaping in the hot air balloon.

Karen Ross is exactly the kind of female character I love in these movies. She knows her resources and talents, and uses them without ever giving anybody a chance to question her. With a strong air of confidence, she handles herself just as well as any man in any situation, and is an important asset to the group every step of the way. Karen is tough and speaks her mind, but Linney also gives her moments of comedy and down-to-earthiness that really makes the audience respond to her character. All this makes Karen Ross the perfect Noteworthy Heroine of Horror.

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Written by Michele Eggen
In addition to contributing to Wicked Horror, Michele Eggen has been writing about all things horror at her blog, The Girl Who Loves Horror, since 2010. She loves anything having to do with ghosts or the supernatural realm. Her favorite films are Poltergeist and Child's Play.
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