Horror, like the entire film industry, has basically been a Boy’s Club since Day 1; while men handled every aspect of production and distribution, women (for the most part) were in front of the cameras, subjugated to one of two roles: Victim or Bimbo. As times changed and society evolved, women began participating at every level of filmmaking; not only are women now regarded as equals, they are often sought out for their unique ideas and perspectives, forever altering the course of cinematic history.
Still, horror more than any genre is often regarded as a No-Woman’s-Land, an arena where masculine ideology and sensibilities reign supreme. But this is no longer the case. While it may be less evident to the casual observer, women have been making serious inroads, even helming some major horror heavyweights. And while horror films directed by women are virtually indistinguishable from those directed by men in terms of terror, gore, and intensity, they almost always include unique aspects of the female experience that adds levels of nuance and subtext, with chilling and unexpected results.
The films below represent the best examples of horror movies directed by women. Much love, Ladies!
The Babadook (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent
Stars: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall |
Are you sick of hearing me rave about The Babadook? That can only mean one thing: You haven’t seen it yet! This Australian export tells the story of a young widow and her rambunctious son, descended upon by a nebulous and malicious entity. Writer/director Jennifer Kent adds volumes of subtext to what presents itself as your typical Haunted House trope, delivering an arresting exploration of grief, mourning, and recovery. Not only is The Babadook expertly presented, it’s scary as hell; this horror fan felt like a scared little boy, peeking through his fingers, as dark forces beyond his understanding manifest around him. See this movie!
American Mary (2012)
Directors: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Writers: Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska
Stars: Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk |
Jen and Sylvia Soska
It’s nearly impossible to discuss American Mary in any respect without mentioning the film’s directors: Canadian sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska, the founders of Twisted Twins Productions. Not only do they appear in the film as the inseparable sisters from Berlin, they’ve created a trademark style and persona that oozes from behind the camera into the forefront of everything they produce. Part Vamp, part Comic-Con Queen, each sister is a fan-boy’s wet dream; they radiate a powerful, confident energy that makes 90’s Girl Power seem downright flowery. But their sexy appeal is far from a gimmick; American Mary proves itself to be a disturbing twist on standard examples of the Revenge and Body-Horror subgenres, tailored to new generation of pierced and modified horror fans. Next up for the Soskas: A film adaptation of the graphic novel Painkiller Jane.
American Psycho (2000)
It’s been suggested that there was a political component involved in Mary Harron’s selection as director of American Psycho. As the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, which the film is based on, was already regarded as a feminist nightmare, protests and negative press seemed inevitable. Lions Gate hypothesized that a female director/screenwriter would go a long way towards changing popular perceptions of the movie while simultaneously introducing a feminine energy to counteract its most misogynistic aspects. But those who feared a sanitized or watered-down American Psycho were pleasantly surprised. While the infamous wire-hanger scene from the novel was mercifully truncated, the film is as twisted and unnerving as any horror movie directed by a man. Harron was able to maintain the film’s bloody intensity while bringing muted elements of black comedy to the forefront.
Director: Antonia Bird
Writer: Ted Griffin
Stars: Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, David Arquette |
Not only did Antonia Bird’s masterful directing of Ravenous elevate the cannibalism subgenre to the level of high art, she pretty much single handedly saved the entire production. The film’s original director, Milcho Manchevski, was fired 3 weeks into shooting after near-constant feuding with producers over deal-breaker issues including: The budget, the filming schedule, and casting decisions. Replacement director Raja Gosnell was roundly rejected by the cast and crew. It was then that Robert Carlyle, one of the stars of Ravenous, suggested Antonia Bird who came in and saved the day. And even though Bird was sympathetic to Manchevski’s ordeal, calling aspects of the production “horrible” and “manipulative”, she delivered a film that represents a major creative success—and one of the best examples of horror produced in the 1990’s. Sadly, Antonia shook her mortal coil just over a year ago; Rest in Piece awesome lady.
Director: Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Writers: Damian O’Donnell (based on a screenplay by), Jennifer Chambers Lynch (screenplay)
Stars: Vincent D’Onofrio, Eamon Farren, Evan Bird |
Jennifer Chambers Lynch
For a female-directed horror movie, Chained has huge balls! Jennifer Chambers Lynch (yup, that’s David Lynch’s daughter) delivers a film of rare brutality; it’s an unflinching look into the life of a murderous sexual sadist—and the young man he keeps chained up as a slave and reluctant protégé. While the extreme violence in Chained is almost entirely implied, the film is so evocative it’s often labeled obscene. A Third Act twist strikes some viewers as abrupt, but the film’s conclusion is nothing short of brilliant, allowing for multiple interpretations, and leaving some characters’ fates completely up in the air. This slow-burn shocker will delight many aficionados, but it isn’t for those with delicate sensibilities.
Dark Touch (2013)
Director: Marina de Van
Writer: Marina de Van
Stars: Missy Keating, Marcella Plunkett, Padraic Delaney |
Dark Touch, written and directed by Marina de Van, is a disturbing and deeply nuanced piece of cinema. On the surface, it’s a ghost story: A haunted house or poltergeist is terrorizing a family. We soon come to suspect that young Neve (played by Missy Keating with uncommon intensity, beyond her years) is not merely the center of this paranormal activity, but the cause. Think a younger version of Carrie White: A pre-adolescent with a powerful telekinetic response to emotional triggers. You can expect to be scared, but the conclusion of Dark Touch is nothing short of shocking, with de Van taking her audience places few directors dare to tread. Absolute emotional devastation; in other words: Don’t expect a happy ending.
The Moth Diaries (2011)
Director: Mary Harron
Writers: Rachel Klein (novel), Mary Harron (screenplay)
Stars: Sarah Bolger, Sarah Gadon, Lily Cole |
The Moth Diaries, a rare, almost voyeuristic glimpse at some of the darkest aspects of emerging female sexuality, is the second film on this list directed by Mary Harron. Set at a boarding school for privileged girls, it’s a modern reinterpretation of the gothic novella Carmilla (by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, first published in 1871) which tells the story of a young woman’s susceptibility to a hypnotic female vampire. Vampire mythology is rarely given the feminine treatment it receives in The Moth Diaries, resulting in an experience that’s both haunting and erotic. Like all vampire stories, this movie delivers blood, sex, and death in abundance, all presented with incredible subtlety and uncommon beauty. When examined alongside American Psycho, Harron proves herself a director of vast scope with extremely keen insights.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Director: Karyn Kusama
Writer: Diablo Cody
Stars: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Brody |
It’s sometimes hard to believe that Jennifer’s Body, a film filled with moments that feel like blatant exploitation, was written by one woman and directed by another—both of whom describe themselves as outspoken feminists: Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama respectively, are the devious minds behind one of horror’s greatest guilty pleasures. The mix of extreme gore and black comedy is reminiscent of the works of Sam Raimi, most specifically Drag Me to Hell and the Evil Dead franchise. By subverting viewer expectations of terrified female characters, Jennifer’s Body emerges as an empowerment piece and a nuanced examination of the complex bonds between women. To most guys, though, it’s just the movie where Megan Fox makes out with Amanda Seyfried (SHWING!).
Pet Sematary (1989)
Director: Mary Lambert
Writers: Stephen King (novel), Stephen King (screenplay)
Stars: Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, Fred Gwynne |
Perhaps the last great horror movie from the glorious 1980’s, Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary is still widely regarded as one of the greatest adaptations of a Stephen King novel ever produced. The story of a young doctor stymied by the limits of medical science as he and his wife are beset upon by personal tragedy, is nothing short of terrifying. One of the film’s subplots involving the wife’s sister, Zelda, is almost scarier than the main story. While Pet Sematary was born in the mind of The Master, Stephen King, the film succeeds in no small part thanks to Lambert’s incredible fearless direction. She recently participated in Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Semetary, a documentary examining the origins and legacy of King’s most enduring saga (both the book and the movie); this film is currently seeking distribution.
Silent House (2012)
Directors: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
Writers: Gustavo Hernández (film “La casa muda”), Laura Lau (screenplay)
Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens |
Laura Lau wrote the screenplay for The Silent House (based on the 2010 Uruguayan film La casa muda) and directed it with along with Chris Kentis. Presented as a film shot in a single continuous take (similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope), The Silent House promised a host of unique directorial challenges—I mean, just think about the technical logistics involved! While it was later revealed that the movie was, in fact, filmed in 12 to 15 minute chunks, it’s still an impressive feat and a testament to creative editing. The final result is a film that ties you to its protagonist, forcing you to endure every moment of her torment in this taut and compelling work of terror and suspense, where things aren’t always as they seem.
Population 436 (2006)
Director: Michelle MacLaren
Writer: Michael Kingston
Stars: David Ames, Leigh Enns, Susan Kelso |
He did it all for the nookie
Without dwelling on this hypothesis, I’ve often wondered if Fred Durts’s participation in Population 436 was the film’s downfall. He wasn’t awful and he wasn’t a main character, but talk about an artist no one takes seriously! The marketing team made a huge mistake in touting the film as the former Limp Bizkit frontman’s acting debut (often listing his name alongside the stars). This annoying factoid aside, Population 436 is a great psychological thriller in the vein of The Box and The Twilight Zone Movie, with a plot reminiscent of the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. When a census taker arrives in the town of Rockwell Falls to investigate a statistical anomaly, he discovers a population dangerously obsessed with a hybrid mix of Christianity and numerology. Director Michelle MacLaren is best known as a TV producer, having written and directed episodes of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead (explaining why Population 436 sometimes feels made-for-television), but the silver screen is in her future: MacLaren is currently attached to helm the superhero movie Wonder Woman, scheduled for release in 2017.
Director: Emily DiPrimio
Writer: Emily DiPrimio
I’m giving the final spot on this list to 14-year-old Emily DiPrimio in anticipation of her first feature-length movie: Carver. Emily wrote the script with her father while she was laid up after ankle surgery at age 13, and will direct the film once production begins in earnest. Carver is touted as a 1980’s style slasher throwback, similar in feel to movies like My Bloody Valentine and The Prowler. A group of teenagers commit an unspeakable act on Halloween, resulting in the deaths of 3 innocent people. 3 years later, they are perused by someone seeking vengeance—but who is The Carver? I don’t know what’s more remarkable: The fact that DiPrimio is only 14, or the fact that someone so young has a passion for retro horror? If you’re as excited about seeing this film made as I am, you can contribute to the Kickstarter campaign (and even buy a t-shirt): HERE.
What are your favorite horror films directed by women? Did your favorite female director make the list? Sound off in the comments section!
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