On International Women’s Day, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of the contributions made by women to the horror genre. Like other movie genres, women have had far fewer opportunities to bring their visions to the screen. Yet some of the more creative and risky horror entries in recent years have come from very talented women in the industry. Below are 12 examples of some of the better horror movies helmed by women.
American Psycho (2000) – Mary Harron
When Canadian Mary Harron adapted Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho to the big screen, she faced a huge challenge. When Lions Gate Films released the satirical horror film, audiences were accustomed to straightforward serial killers movies like Silence of the Lambs, Kiss the Girls, and Copycat. Needless to say, American Psycho had little in common with those movies. But Harron had an excellent grasp of the source material and its skewering of Western consumerism. As a result, American Psycho doles out dark humour and shocking, brutal violence in equal measures. Today, American Psycho is a must-see genre movie.
American Mary (2012) – The Soska Sisters
Canadian directors Jen and Sylvia Soska have put together quite the filmography. From their charged debut, Dead Hooker in a Trunk to tackling a remake of David Cronenberg’s Rabid, the Soska Sisters prefer their horror with a darkly humorous and brutal edge. Arguably, American Mary remains their most provocative work to date. American Mary follows medical student Mary Mason’s descent into the illegal world of body modification surgery. Though there’s plenty of gross-out moments, American Mary’s story offers some subversive commentary that anticipated the #MeToo movement. Horror fans will also enjoy Katharine Isabelle’s performance in what is her best role since Ginger Snaps.
The Babadook (2014) – Jennifer Kent
Writer and director Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook is a brilliantly scary movie. Its story of a single mother with a troubled son battling an imagined – or real – boogeyman is frightening and emotionally affecting. As an allegorical tale of the very real struggles single-parents face, The Babadook is a relatable movie with a human core. In regards to its horror, Kent builds tension expertly with some unbearable jumps thrown in for good measure. Like It Follows, Us, and A Quiet Place, The Babadook’s titular monster proves you don’t need vampires, werewolves, or hockey mask-wearing killers to get under your skin. Kent’s follow-up, The Nightingale, is an equally powerful viewing experience.
Near Dark (1987) – Kathryn Bigelow
To date, Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to earn a Best Director nod from the Academy. In fact, she’s something of a maverick for women in the field. Her eclectic filmography includes The Hurt Locker, Point Break, the underrated Strange Days, and Near Dark. Consider Near Dark the best vampire movie you’ve never seen. For some strange reason, it’s an incredibly hard movie to find. A moody mix of horror and modern western, Near Dark offered a fresh take on the vampire mythology. And with a cast that included Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton, Bigelow’s only foray into horror is a standout effort. The diner scene is a standout moment you’re not likely to forget.
Raw (2016) – Julia Duournau
French director Julia Ducournau’s Raw is another example on this list of female directors re-imagining tired horror concepts. At the height of Grindhouse cinema, the cannibal movie was its own subgenre. But Ducournau tweaks the premise by fusing some unnerving gore, sexuality, and family drama. Raw follows first-year veterinarian student Justine, a vegetarian, who develops a taste for flesh after she’s forced to eat meat as part of a hazing ritual. Be forewarned – you may swear off meat after watching this one.
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) – Amy Holden Jones
Believe it or not, feminist writer Rita Mae Brown wrote Slumber Party Massacre’s screenplay. Apparently, Brown intended the movie to be something of a satire of the slasher subgenre. Some of Brown’s feminist undertones might be somewhere in the movie’s climatic confrontation between her Final Girls and The Driller Killer. Ultimately, however, Amy Holden Jones’ Slumber Party Massacre feels like a low-budget, straight-up slasher movie. That’s not to say that Jones doesn’t stretch her budget to offer some decent gore, making this one of the better B-slashers from the early 80’s. It’s earned a deserved cult status, producing what’s arguably one of the more memorable slasher sequels.
Jennifer’s Body – Karyn Kusama
Director Karyn Kusama directed one of the 2010’s best horror movies – The Invitation. Several years earlier, Kusama collaborated with Diablo Cody on cult-classic, Jennifer’s Body. Upon its initial release, critics dismissed it and audiences didn’t show up. But time has earned Jennifer’s Body a much-deserved critical re-appraisal. Megan Fox plays Jennifer, a popular cheerleader, who develops a bloodlust for her male peers after a demon possesses her. A feminist horror movie, Cody and Kusama put female friendships front row and centre while addressing issues that #MeToo would tackle years later. The best horror movies improve as they age, and Jennifer’s Body is only more relevant today.
Blood & Donuts (1995) – Holly Dale
Without a doubt, Blood & Donuts is the strangest movie on this list. It’s a low-budget, Canadian horror-comedy about a recently awakened vampire who spends a lot of time in a donut shop and involving himself in the patrons’ lives. Did I mention that David Cronenberg cameos as a crime boss? Director Holly Dale was better known for her groundbreaking documentaries, including P4W: Prison for Women. In many ways, Blood & Donuts shares more in common with some of the 90’s early ‘mumblecore’ movies than it does outright horror. Don’t expect much in the way of vampire gore. It also feels like something of a precursor to Taika Waititi’s What We Do In The Shadows. If you can find it, Blood & Donuts is an interesting addition to the vampire filmography.
A Girls Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) – Ana Lily Amirpour
Ana Lily Amirpour wrote and directed one of the best horror movies of the 2010’s. This black and white Iranian vampire movie boldly channels Spaghetti westerns and the classic, Nosferatu. And the result – an unforgettably haunting, moving horror movie. On the surface, A Girl Walks Home Alone has a simple story. A lonely vampire stalks the lost and sad souls of an Iranian ghost town. But it’s the way Amirpour tells this story that makes the movie hit all the right nerves. Vampire movies have been done to death. But Amirpour shows that creativity and flair can make even the oldest horror subjects feel re-invigorated.
Revenge (2018) – Coralie Fargeat
Distributed by horror-streaming platform, Shudder, Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge was a brutal re-invention of a tired horror sub-genre. To her credit, Fargeat flips the ‘male gaze’ and transforms her protagonist from victim to a vengeance-seeking machine. In addition to subverting the rape-revenge formula, Revenge pokes a little fun at the male-action hero fantasies common to the 1980’s. There’s plenty of blood and violence, all of which Fargeat films with distinct visual flair. Revenge also delivers a clever and tense final cat-and-mouse chase in its climax.
Honeymoon (2014) – Leigh Janiak
Leigh Janiak’s directorial debut, Honeymoon, is an atmospheric mix of horror, psychological suspense, and science fiction. When newlywed couple, Bea and Paul, head to an isolated cabin for their honeymoon, strange events have Paul questioning if Bea has been replaced by someone – or something – else. Though you’ll likely figure out Honeymoon’s mystery pretty fast, Janiak is a stylish filmmaker who gets the most out of her cast and setting. Moreover, she’s able to elicit several shocks resulting in an indie thriller that’s quietly unsettling.
Boxing Helena (1993) – Jennifer Lynch
Of all the movies on this list, Boxing Helena is probably the most disturbing. Not surprisingly, its director – Jennifer Lynch – is the daughter of surrealist filmmaker, David Lynch. By today’s standards, Lynch’s story would have a hard time making it to the big screen. Even in 1993, Boxing Helena prompted some backlash. Julian Sands (Warlock) plays an obsessed surgeon who amputates the limbs of his love interest and holds her captive. Boxing Helena is an emotionally complex, disturbing thriller with a bad ending that feels ripped from a soap opera. Nonetheless, Lynch’s filmmaking is transgressive, which is a hallmark of the genre.