While female directors contributing to the horror landscape have become far more prevalent through the years, you’ll see from the list below that women have had a hand in some of horror’s landmark titles going as far back as the 80’s. Hopefully this list can serve to make you aware of some standout titles you may have missed, alert you to some up-and-coming directors to keep an eye on, or even make you aware that some of your go-to horror favorites featured a woman leading behind the camera. With that we’ll get started, and feel free to let me know if there are any I may have missed.
Oh Shudder, thank you for bringing this film to our living rooms!
While some may dismiss Revenge as just another addition to the panned rape-revenge subgenre, Coralie Fargeat serving in the director’s chair adds something important to this category of film that others before her never really addressed. To me, that would be talking points; this movie has a lot to say about the genre and mindset behind the actions that take place in this film. Mix the intelligent dialogue with gorgeous visuals and some of the most visceral gore of the year, and you have yourself a film that’s worth sitting through some of the more difficult to watch segments.
You can check out Charlotte’s full review for Revenge HERE
9. Jennifer’s Body
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t in love with this film the first time I saw it. It took repeat viewings for me to get past my disdain for a Megan Fox led horror film (oh, how I despise the Transformers franchise), but once I finally did, I was greeted to something my past prejudices wouldn’t allow me to see before. That would be that this movie is actually a whole lot of fun. Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody teamed up to deliver an enjoyable coming-of-age demon film. I can’t deny the vision it took to create something as accessible to audiences and amusing as Jennifer’s Body, even if I disagree with some of the casting decisions.
Like Revenge, Raw is a French film that could be categorized in the New French Extremity/French Extremism subgenre. For those not familiar, this would include such films as Martyrs, High Tension, and the recently released Climax (just so you know what you’re in for). With that being said, this is where the majority of similarities end between the two films. Yes, this one is also hard to watch, but in a different way. Yes, this film is also beautifully shot, but is much less vibrant and much more melancholy. Raw is a cannibal movie, and an arthouse one at that. This is purely body horror done in the nastiest way possible. Though slow at times, Julia Ducournau masterfully directed this film to offer payoff when necessary. I don’t want to over-hype the disturbing nature of this one, but make sure you don’t have a weak stomach before diving in.
7. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
This is one I’ve had a soft spot for ever since I was a kid marathoning movies from my uncle’s extensive VHS collection. Freddy’s Dead may not be the greatest Nightmare on Elm Street film, but Rachel Talalay certainly left her mark on horror history with this entry in the franchise. This film was responsible for the highest opening weekend of any Elm Street film until the release of Freddy vs. Jason 12 years later. Yes, the story didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but at that point this was just a staple of the series. What mattered most to Elm Street fans were the fun inventive kills and witty dialogue. Thankfully, Rachel Talalay over-delivered both of these things with Freddy’s Dead.
6. American Mary
If you’re into outlandish body horror, American Mary is the film for you. Some of the imagery in this one is so off the wall that even just looking at the characters spooked me out at times. That’s because this film is about the world of “extreme” body modification, and its purpose is to be completely out of the ordinary. This is by no means a knock to the film, it’s honestly mesmerizing. I found myself sticking around not only for the story, but to see what else the directors had up their sleeves visually. Add to that Katharine Isabelle’s standout performance as Mary, and we may well have a future cult classic on our hands. American Mary was directed by the Soska Sisters who are currently hard at work finishing off their remake to David Cronenberg’s Rabid. They are two individuals to definitely keep an eye on.
You can also check out Mike’s review of their Black Widow comic book HERE
5. The Babadook
While The Babadook has lost a bit of its edge for me throughout repeat viewings over the past few years, it’s still a gem to behold. Not only did Jennifer Kent formulate a symbolic psychological horror romp for her debut film, but she also delivered one of the creepiest scenes in modern foreign horror (one involving a certain story book) and, while it was presumably unintentional, introduced an LGBTQ icon to the world in the Babadook himself. Jennifer Kent has a bright future in the eyes of horror fans, and, if The Babadook is only the beginning, we can only wait to experience what she has in store for us in The Nightingale.
4. Pet Sematary (1989)
With the recent hype behind the Pet Sematary remake, it’s time to give credit to the film that paved the way. Mary Lambert’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel about a graveyard that brings back the dead is an underrated cult classic. Between the bloody, tragic story and the iconic Achilles tendon scene (which the remake pays a nice homage to) there is definitely enough here to keep horror fans happy. With all that being said, this isn’t a perfect film. It can be downright silly at times, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this one. It makes up for many of its shortcomings with a lot of heart. Overall, the original Pet Sematary may have a few kinks, but its charm is undeniable.
3. Near Dark
Another cult classic on this list, Near Dark is a western-inspired vampire film starring the late Bill Paxton. This film was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who went on to direct such notable movies as Point Break and The Hurt Locker. While her repertoire is filled to the brim with hits, Near Dark may arguably be her greatest work. Mixing drama, romance, and western-inspired themes with horror was no easy task, but Bigelow pulled it off to the tee. Definitely move this one to the top of your must-watch list.
2. Tigers Are Not Afraid
I was lucky enough to catch this underappreciated title back in 2018 at a film festival, and it has stuck in my mind ever since. In the film, Mexican writer/director Issa Lopez tells the story of a band of orphans living in a world filled with violence and all things supernatural. While the movie at first just drew comparisons by critics to Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro applauded the film on twitter soon after and announced that he would produce her next project. If that weren’t enough, Tigers Are Not Afraid also won Issa the Best Horror Director Award at Fantastic Fest 2017. There’s a good reason this is the only recent film to crack the top 2 of this list. Do yourself a favor and see it, if you can find it!
1. American Psycho
One of my favorite movies of all time based on one of my favorite books of all time, Mary Harron’s American Psycho is in a league of its own when it comes to dialogue and storytelling. Whether it be the absolutely ridiculous conversations that take place between characters, the suspenseful slasher-esque chase scenes, or the outlandish situations the film portrays, American Psycho presents nonstop fun throughout its 100-minute runtime. Not to mention that this movie gifted us Christian Bale’s breakthrough role as serial killer Patrick Bateman and all the memes that followed. Harron has been relatively quiet since, but should be releasing her Manson movie titled Charlie Says later this year. Given my high opinion of American Psycho, I won’t be missing it.
(Patrick Bateman made our best dressed villains list…you can check that out HERE)
Honorable Mentions: Trouble Every Day, The Ranger, The Slumber Party Massacre and Ravenous.
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