I know this handsome young man. He looks a lot like me and just happens to live in my house, but I’ll leave his identity anonymous. Anywho, he’s always surprised when he sees or hears a woman doing something typically “associated” with men.
He loves basketball, so whenever the great Doris Burke is doing color commentary and analysis for the NBA, he’s glued to it. “Man, she’s…um, good at that.” (For the record, she’s one of the best.)
Rewind to 2014: He saw The Babadook and extols its greatness to this day. Then, he discovered a man named Jennifer Kent directed it. (Yeah, he freaked a little.) I was thinking about that the other day when I saw a PPV trailer for Kent’s The Nightingale.
While he won’t be watching that anytime soon based on its certain adult thematic focus, I wonder how many more women have made such a splash in horror. Who will join Kent (who certainly could rest on Mount Rushmore of female horror directors)?
Let’s find out…
10. Soulmate (2013)
A widow. A suicide attempt. A retreat to a cabin surrounded by fog. And, it’s in Wales. What could possibly go wrong? Of course, it’s haunted! Axelle Carolyn used that perfect horror recipe but didn’t quite let the movie bake long enough.
The cinematography is hypnotic, set as a Gothic visage while Audrey (Anna Walton) escapes to reassess her life. While this film is presented as a horror, it’s more of a thriller. Good for a gloomy evening at home, but no need for a night light.
9. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
The one that ended the saga (thankfully). Rachel Talalay, a former computer programmer at Johns Hopkins University, has made a fine living directing for the small screen, but her first shot in film was directing Robert Englund’s swan song in the historic slasher franchise.
And after part six, many things got tired (including those jump-roping girls who didn’t appear for the first time singing Freddy’s rhyme. Talalay was also the only woman to direct a Freddy film — and she’s the one who got Alice Cooper to agree to be Freddy’s father in the movie. Truly, a woman’s touch.
8. Boxing Helena (1993)
Starring the always creepy Julian Sands and the lovely Sherilyn Fenn, Boxing Helena features a preposterous situation — a dude (a surgeon) is so obsessed with a woman that when she tries to move on, he does what most ex-boyfriends do: following an accident, he amputates her limbs and stuffs her in a box for his entertainment. Really.
Does the name David Lynch ring a sci-fi bell? It should since he was the master scribe behind Twin Peaks, Mulholland Dr., Eraserhead, and… DUNE! Anyway, this movie runs in the family as his daughter Jennifer was at the helm. This is a strange, eerie, and calculatingly uncomfortable film. Yeah, that Jennifer is a chip off the old block.
7. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Shaped as a B-movie slasher flick (i.e., half-naked school girls, loads of slashing kills, no-give-up heroines, and of course, a slumber party), Amy Holden Jones has had better days. And that’s no slight, she wrote Mystic Pizza, Indecent Proposal, and both TV series The Resident and Black Box. She’s no slouch, but even Einstein had a brain fart over some long division, you know?
If you watch the movie, pay attention to the script. It seems Jones pokes a few barbs at the slasher genre altogether. Surely, the campy focus on slasher movies wasn’t intentional, but if you pay close attention at the gore, horror, and one-liners, it’s obvious the feminist slant intended by Jones worked. Well, for the most part.
6. Carrie (2013)
A movie that has already been discussed with splendid depth in here, the reboot of the Stephen King classic attracted the attention of the Oscar-winning Kimberly Peirce, who directed Boys Don’t Cry. Though Sissy Spacek will always be the telekinetic vengeful demon, Peirce wanted an actual teenager to play the bullied high schooler, which is how we met Chloe Grace Moretz.
Fortunately, Peirce’s vision of the role won out. Stephen King, though not a consultant on the film, recommended Lindsay Lohan for the lead. He thought she looked like Sissy Spacek. Yeah, but meh?!
5. Pet Sematary (1989)
Imagine, you’re a film student dreaming of the day of breaking big in Hollywood. You have been fortunate to direct some music videos for Madonna and Janet Jackson, but still searching for a film opportunity. Then, your big break comes — Paramount Pictures calls and wants you to direct its newest horror movie.
Of course, you shout “YES” and don’t flinch. Then, you find out it is for Stephen King’s Pet Sematary.
Regretfully, she couldn’t really escape the auteur’s rather portentous shadow, as the movie was filmed 20 minutes from King’s literal front door (like, his house in Maine), but Mary Lambert managed to pull it off much to the pleasure of the 1980s horror fan…and said auteur.
And to think, she was the second choice stepping into the shoes of George A. Romero. Solid game, Mary.
4. Ravenous (1999)
This is a movie starring Guy Pearce, who is branded a American traitor, assigned to Fort Spencer. There, all supplies are low, fear is high, and imagination takes over as a “stranger” shows up and teaches the accosted soldiers to a different way to gather protein in a diet.
Yeah, dude’s a cannibal.
The co-star in the movie is the dynamic Robert Carlyle, who recommended Milcho Manchevski to helm the gig. Milcho would later bounce over the generic “irreconcilable differences” cited between studio and director. Once he was shown the door, 20th Century Fox reached out to Antonia Bird, who actually worked with Carlyle on Priest.
Turns out it ironically took prayer to make this movie come together. And many gory thriller fans would thank their God it did.
3. Near Dark (1987)
Maybe you have heard of Kathryn Bigelow? Two-time Oscar winner? Visionary behind The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, and the marvelous Point Break? Yeah, she’s a little talented. I know, but..horror?!
Near Dark came out in the late ’80s during the first vampiric boom that loomed over this country. In fact, while this bloodlusting movie doesn’t utter the word Bram Stoker made famous some 90 years earlier.
It’s almost a noir-like western with vampires. You have to see it to understand, but still a 76 on Metacritic? It’s well worth your time and a nice introduction to what this brilliant woman would do later.
2. Raw (2016)
This movie checked all the woke boxes: Young, pioneering girl (check). Studying to be a veterinarian (animal lover…check). She practices as a vegan (very Hollywood check). And then, something strange happens. Girl gets hazed in college by being forced to eat raw meat. And then, she really starts to enjoy it.
Led by French Director Julia Ducournau (who wrote the screenplay as well), this is not about a young woman who starts enjoying hamburgers. In fact, she becomes a fiendishly, crazed cannibal. Like, during dates and times of loveplay. Yeah… ouch!
This subtitled movie is truly uncomfortable to watch. Even for me, and I’m a meat-diet Texan. Originally, this film was NC-17 based on its grizzly violence and scenes of gore. They even handed out barf bags for the U.S. premiere. Ducournau showed the big men of gore how it’s done.
1. American Psycho (2000)
As shared previously, The Babadook clearly leads this list of female-led horror powerhouses. However, since sharing a story about
my son, eh…some guy I know was more important than Jennifer Kent’s spellbinding movie, this is our winner.
Did you even know Mary Harron directed this gem? Known largely for her TV episodic gifts like Alias Grace and standing to shoot parts of notable series like Oz, Homicide: Life on the Street, Six Feet Under, and Fear Itself, Mary has also created visionary and unexpected treats like I Shot Any Warhol and The Notorious Bettie Page.
Then came Patrick effin’ Bateman, played so cleverly by Christian Bale.
It’s almost like that towering and tumultuous ego came naturally to him. Not so much “horror,” but so very gory as Bateman’s side hustle involves some blatant bloodletting. Nobody knew what kind of an instant classic American Psycho would become, but there it is, and fans of the genre are better for it. Mary Herron needs to get back in that chair for another film of horror.