Horror is often categorized as a very masculine genre, both in film and literature. Conventional wisdom in this case manages to be both wrong and right at the same time. Studies have found that audiences for horror films tend to be about 50% women. The number of women producing, directing, and writing horror -—well, that reflects the larger Hollywood picture, where women in these roles remain a minority.
That isn’t to say there aren’t any female-helmed horror movies out there. There’s just fewer of them. Today, we’ll look at handful of films directed by women.
American Mary, The Soska Sisters, 2012
American Mary is the second film from the sister duo of Jen and Sylvia Soska. Staring Katherine Isabelle, of the fantastic Ginger Snaps, it is the story of a medical student who becomes involved in the underground body modification scene.
“The story follows medical student, Mary Mason, as she becomes increasingly broke and disenchanted with the surgical world she once admired. The allure of easy money sends Mary into the world of underground surgeries which ends up leaving more marks on her than her so-called ‘freakish’ clientele.”
American Psycho, Mary Harron, 2000
Bret Easton Ellis may have hated the pick of director and the resulting movie, but he never has anything nice to say about anyone. Mary Harron both helmed the film and adapted the novel, giving us Christian Bale impersonating Tom Cruise as a serial killer. I was late in seeing this movie — I finally watched while hopped up on pain killers following surgery and had to ask people if the movie was really as funny as I was finding it.
Perhaps the greatest gift Harron has given the world with this film is the endless collection of gifs suitable for all occasions.
Near Dark, Kathryn Bigelow 1987
Now, everyone knows Kathryn Bigelow as the first female Best Director Oscar winner and director of action movies like Point Break, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. But for years, many horror fans knew her as the woman behind a fantastic cowboy-infused, Western-style vampire movie. Starring most of the cast of Aliens, Bigelow makes an excellent argument that vampires really belong in the wide open spaces of the American South and not in rain-soaked Transylvania. One of the best vampires movies of the modern era, if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice.
Silent House, Laura Lau 2011
A remake of an Uruguayan film of the same name, Silent House stars another of the Olsen sisters in a twisty tale of what happens to a young woman trapped in a decaying house with her father and uncle. The film unfolds in real time and uses some sleight of hand to appear to be one continuous tracking which lends a sense of urgency to everything that happens on screen. Unsettling, confusing, and disturbing, this is an unusual and ambitious film that’s worth adding to your to-watch list.
Slumber Party Massacre, Amy Holden Jones, 1982
Though these days she likes to distance herself from it, this is the slasher film written by Rita Mae Brown, which makes it a double rarity — a horror film both written and directed by women. The slasher genre in particular has a very poor reputation as misogynistic in its portrayals of sexually active women picked off in elaborate ways by a hulking male killer. SPM is one the earliest films of its kind to broadly acknowledge the not-exactly-subtle sexual aggression in the movies, playing up the phallic weapon of its “Driller Killer,” down to a symbolic castration by the film’s Final Girl. There are boobs in the film, because there always are, but this is a smarter film than the title implies. Skip the sequels, though.