Like most of the film genres, horror has usually been a male playing field. We have the horror visionaries such as John Carpenter and Wes Craven but no woman to add to that list. Sadly, the recurring pattern seems to be that female directed horror films usually become cult classics, failing to get a mainstream audience. And even if they manage to get some acclaim, they still aren’t able to get much work afterwards unlike their male counterparts. Female written/directed horror films are so refreshing because we get a different point of view. We rarely get the female gaze as it is but seeing it used to convey fear and suspense is highly refreshing. Here are 10 female-directed horror films that you should see.
10. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
The sixth installment in The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise went to newcomer Rachel Talalay, the only female director in the series. The film explores Freddy’s past and introduces his daughter. The film wasn’t critically acclaimed but still did pretty well at the box office.
Talalay was vocal about how she thought her gender was an obstacle in her career. In a New York Times article and an Entertainment Weekly profile, Talalay recalled that she would frequently get reminders to not make the film too “girly” or sensitive. She also added that previous Nightmare on Elm Street directors got franchise films while she was stuck in movie jail.
9. The Babadook
2014 was an especially good year for horror; Alongside It Follows, The Babadook struck gold with moviegoers. Its simple setup focused on the protagonist, Amelia, and her grief rather than jump scares and blood. Amelia is trying to raise her son, Samuel, while mourning the death of her husband. Samuel’s constant fear of monsters is causing her friends to become distant to her. After receiving a mysterious book on the porch called The Babadook, Amelia starts to realize that Samuel’s fears are real.
Kent explores depression and grief in the form of a Tim Burton-esque creature. She never leaves Amelia’s gaze and focuses on her emotions throughout the whole film. It’s a complex horror film that’s perfect if you don’t want an extremely scary movie.
8. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Ana Lily Amirpour has officially made vampires cool again. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a black and white Persian vampire spaghetti western horror—yes, you read that correctly. The film is described as being set in the “Iranian ghost town Bad City” and illustrates the doings of a lonesome vampire.
The film is a slow burn but is captivating nonetheless. The female vampire is like a guardian angel who punishes the bad and rescues the good. However, she has her own flaws and won’t hesitate to kill anybody if she has to. Amirpour implements a stellar soundtrack and uses it tell a romantic story.
7. American Psycho
When Bret Easton Ellis found out that a woman was going to direct the adaptation of his novel, American Psycho, he was not pleased at all. He flat out said that women could not direct movies because they lack one necessary element: the male gaze. Well, Ellis, the joke’s on you because Mary Harron made the adaptation more memorable than the actual novel. Harron takes the book’s problematic elements and transforms it into a satirical jab on masculinity.
6. Slumber Party Massacre
Amy Jones had two options to choose from: to either edit Steven Spielberg’s E.T. or direct her first feature film. She chose the latter and created the cult classic, The Slumber Party Massacre. The Slumber Party Massacre takes classic slash-film elements and parodies them by making women the heroes rather than victims. Instead of women making the stupid decisions, the men are to blame and get themselves killed as a result. Also, the women actually talk like real human beings!
5. Near Dark
Did you know that Kathryn Bigelow directed other films besides The Hurt Locker? At the peak of the vampire craze, Bigelow created Near Dark, a western horror flick. It departs from cliche vampire conventions and creates something that is comparable to Natural Born Killers.
Adrian Pasdar plays Caleb Colton, a small town cowboy who falls in love with a vampire named Mae. After reluctantly becoming a member of the undead, he is initiated into Mae’s biker gang. The rest of the film is a gory ride with shootouts and torture.
4. American Mary
“Twisted Twins” Jen and Sylvia Soska get down and dirty with American Mary. A darkly feminist film, American Mary is more of a character study than a plot-driven film. The titular character (Katherine Isabelle) is an aspiring doctor in med school but struggles with financial woes. Suddenly, she is swept into the underground body modification scene, performing illegal surgeries for the “undesirables.”
The Soska sisters handle the body horror tastefully; while there are certainly some icky scenes, she humanizes these characters and gives them some respect. You’ll either love or hate this movie, but it’s worth at least one watch.
3. Pet Sematary
Stephen King adaptations can be questionable, but it’s impossible to not have fun with Pet Sematary. With a creepy cat and original songs by The Ramones, music director Mary Lambert certainly made this film her own. And even with the unorthodox soundtrack, it’s still considered one of the most faithful King adaptations.
2. Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Before the famous TV series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a low-budget horror comedy written by an up-and- coming Joss Whedon. The script was discovered and directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui. The show has heavily overshadowed the original movie, but the latter still has some charm. Kuzui did what she could with the material and made a fun, cheesy horror comedy (and would eventually go on to executive produce the series).
1. The Invitation
Karyn Kusama has been in movie jail since Jennifer’s Body bombed in 2009. Thankfully, last year, she came back to horror with her hidden gem, The Invitation. The Invitation follows Will as he goes to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife and her new husband. When he arrives, he senses something sinister is about the air and aims to figure out if it’s all in his head. Using only one location, Kusama does a wonderful job making it feel claustrophobic. The suspense is in the dialogue and leaves you trying to figure these characters out.