February marks Women in Horror Month, an initiative to celebrate women in the horror genre and the fantastic contributions they make, be it on or behind the camera. Women create some of the most diverse, explicit, challenging and often political and socially conscious horror films out there and this list gives just 20 of them.
Their subjects range from the supernatural, body horror, grief and period pieces to vampires to cult thrillers, so if you’re not a fan of gore, or not a fan of jump scares, you can find something in this list to suit your taste.
THE ONE ABOUT GRIEF
The Babadook was one of the most critically acclaimed horrors of 2014, and a debut no less. Director Jennifer Kent battles with the supernatural and themes of grief in a complex viewing of the relationship between a mother and her son, after her husband’s death. Plagued by a cloaked and top-hat wearing figure from a children’s book that mysteriously appears at the house, The Babadook, mother Amelia has to deal with the looming figure and her son Samuel’s increasingly disturbing behaviour. The sparse, grey drenched story is backed by two stellar performances from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman as the mother son duo and is currently available to stream on Netflix US & UK.
THE BODY MODIFICATION ONE
Jen and Sylvia Soska aka The Soska Sisters are twins who offer up a fantastic duo with double the gore and double the brains. They had previously directed cult favourite Dead Hooker in a Trunk, but American Mary is their greatest acheivement thus far. Starring Katharine Isabelle of Ginger Snaps fame, American Mary is a new take on the revenge sub-genre and adds a little body modification twist. Mary Mason is studying to be a surgeon and takes on stripping as a side-job to make money for rent, there she meets a character who has had plastic surgery to look like Betty Boop, from here she is introduced to the world of body mods and as reluctant as she is, it helps pay her rent and bills. Mason is then drugged and raped at a party by her professor, and exacts her revenge by starting a little project of her own….
THE GORY ONE
Jessica Cameron is a self confessed Scream Queen, having starred and directed in multiple blood-soaked indie horrors. Truth or Dare is her directorial debut and one of the more disgusting and gory titles on this list. Its premise is simple, a group of friends stream Truth or Dare games to the internet, often with violent (and sometimes faked) consequences. The games turn particularly deadly when an obsessed fan follows them and drives them to increasingly terrifying levels of obscenity and violence within their latest game. This is not one for the faint hearted, it’s incredibly violent and bloody and nearly made me sick, which is incredibly hard to do, but plants plenty of little twists and shockers throughout to maintain a fully realised plot.
You can rent it on Amazon US for $3.99
THE CANNIBAL ONE
Julia Ducournau’s Raw gained critical acclaim last year for its reinvention of the cannibal sub-genre by adding a youthful coming-of-age tale and mixing it with vegetarianism. Veggie Justine loves animals, and goes to veterinary school presumably to help save them, just as her sister did before her. During her French version of Freshers Week she is forced to take part in initiation rituals that see her covered in animals blood and eating rabbit kidneys. Her sister convinces her its just a part of the process so she agrees, and wakes up the next morning with a craving for flesh. Raw’s skills lay in it’s dark comedy blend of stand alone gore moments, mixed with the typical behaviours of a new college student- parties, sex and relationships. It’s gory moments are punchy and often funny but also wince-inducing and it boasts a magnificent ending that will stick with you for days afterwards.
You can buy it on iTunes for £5.99 or stream on Netflix US.
THE IRANIAN VAMPIRE WESTERN ONE
Described as an ‘skateboarding Iranian vampire spaghetti western’, Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut is shot entirely in black and white and its lead character is a female vampire who wears a Chador (a traditional Muslim garment), her dominant presence in every shot a political protest in itself. She roams the streets and back alleys of Bad City, a place filled with, you guessed it, bad people, and she exacts justice by killing those who have done wrong. That is until she falls in love with one of the men she seduces, in a rather fantastic scene soundtracked by Little White Lies’ song ‘Death’. The film is a myriad of genres and ideas, a complete subversion and re-invention of the vampire sub-genre and features a leading lady that breaks boundaries and stereotypes of what it means to be an Iranian woman, what it means to be a vampire, and what it means to be a teenage girl.
THE SLOW-BUILDING ONE
You might know Karyn Kusama as the director of Jennifer’s Body, the teenage-boy killing succubus movie starring Megan Fox, but The Invitation is a much more subtle and slow-burning choice for those viewers not comfortable with all out gore and jump scares. The film centres on a dinner party hosted by David & Eden, Eden is the ex-wife of Will, who is fetching along his new girlfriend Kira, the party is used as a way to reconnect with old friends they haven’t seen in two years since Eden and Will’s son’s death. Reeking of awkward situations and unsettling conversations, the dinner slowly escalates as David & Eden tell the group about a programme they had joined called ‘The Invitation’ that allows couples to work through the grieving process. As you would expect, things take a sinister turn as Will begins to realise they are not just here for a simple dinner party…
It is available to stream on Netflix UK & US.
THE SEXY 1960S ONE
Anna Biller is an icon and truly one of the hardest working women in the field. Having directed, written, produced (under her own company), edited and designed costumes, props and sets for the film, Biller claims she was sabotaged by many of her crew who did not like the strong hold Biller had over her own work, which makes it all the more impressive to view.
Set in the 1960s and dripping in technicolor beauty in its 35mm format, it follows Elaine, a modern witch who moves to California after her husband dies. Desperate to find love again she performs rituals on multiple men to get them to love her, but quickly becomes bored when they become clingy and kills them. We follow Elaine as she tries to win hearts and avert the cops but we also watch her empower herself and reclaim her femininity and sexual identity after the loss of her husband. It is truly an original watch for the 2010’s, with plenty of references to 1960s and 1970s horror and social commentary, with a harsh feminist lens and sexual nature.
THE BODY HORROR ONE
If you’re someone who suffers from dermatillomania, please do not watch this film. Marina de Van’s body horror study very literally gets under your skin and crawls around as you become completely disgusted, fascinated, and with an increasing desire to itch. Falling under the ever boundary pushing New French Extremity genre, it follows Esther, who injures her leg at a party, resulting in a bloody mess, and then proceeds to become completely fascinated self-mutilation when she realises she can’t feel properly. It sounds gross, and it is, Marina de Van stars as the lead role and her almost skeletal frame makes everything the more creepy, but as a director starring in her own film, it makes for an incredible study of a woman’s relationship to her body and the uncomfortable experience body dysmorphia can be.
THE CREEPY CHILDREN ONE
Austrian horror mystery Goodnight Mommy is co-directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. Set in an idyllic modernist countryside house, a pair of twins, Lukas and Elias, are taken aback when their mother returns from hospital after plastic surgery and they don’t believe its actually their mother. Covered in bandages all over her head, they believe an imposter has come to their house. If the images of her thin frame and beady eyes poking out from the dressings aren’t enough, her strange and often violent behaviour towards the boys is enough to unsettle anyone. The boys proceed to capture her to get out the truth and discover her true identity, but not all is as it seems….
THE ONE DIRECTED BY THE OSCAR WINNER
Kathryn Bigelow is one of the most powerful women directors in history, being the only woman to ever win for Best Picture in 2008 with The Hurt Locker. But back in the day, her second feature, she directed Near Dark, a western vampire film that centres around a group of vampire drifters who enlist Caleb, a young small town guy into their group after biting him one night. The rag tag group of vamps is headed by Jesse, who agrees to let Caleb stay with them for a while, much to the disapproval of Severen, another of the clan. It’s incredibly 80s, a lot of fun and came along at exactly the right time for a vampire revival.
THE STEPHEN KING ONE
Mary Lambert is considered a pioneer of women in horror, adapting Stephen King’s classic ‘Pet Semetary’ for the big screen in 1989. It’s quite a strange concept, a family move to Maine for the father Louis’ new doctor job and their new neighbour shows them a Pet semetary in the woods up from their house. When one of Louis’ patients dies, he comes back to take Louis to the pet semetary in the dead of night, and shows him what it is capable of. Built on an ancient burial ground, the semetary has the ability to bring things back from the dead, but they are not the same as they were before. Louis first uses the grounds when the family cat is accidentally killed, giving way to some campy 80s effects that scatter delightfully throughout the entire film. The semetary then ends up playing a bigger part in Louis’ live than he originally intended. Its fun, a bit gory, and bit scary and very 80s, and one of the better King adaptations.
THE ANTHOLOGY ONE
The announcement of an ‘all female horror anthology’ going into development was the first thing we ever posted about on Screen Queens. Fast forward 3 years and it finally lands on Netflix, with 5 original stories all crafted by women, Karyn Kusama and St Vincent to name a few. The titles are: The Box, The Birthday Party, Don’t Fall and Her Only Living Son, woven together through another short stop-motion story in between each film. The anthology covers Satan, blood thirsty desert creatures, hiding bodies and a creepy box so this would be the perfect starting point for anyone getting to grips with women in horror and the things they can create.
You can stream it on Netflix UK & US.
THE CAPTIVE HOSTAGE ONE
Australian horror is some of the finest out there and Cate Shortland’s captive Stockholm Syndrome thriller is no exception, except this time it takes us to Berlin, where young photographer Clare is taking a solo trip. She bumps into a man named Andi in the street, and the pair hit it off, engaging in thoughtful discussion and eventually sleeping together. When Clare wakes in the morning, she discovers that she is locked in the house as Andi has gone to his work as a teacher. He returns and apologises, gaining her trust to stay with him again, once again waking to discover she in never getting out of that house. It’s a high tension thriller that plays with ideas of Stockholm syndrome and mixes violence with psychological torture and unease, but it easy on the gore and steps away from the torture or rape revenge sub genre it could have so easily fallen into, making itself in intense character study and dissecting an ever changing and unsettling relationship dynamic.
You can stream it on Netflix UK & US.
THE SUPERNATURAL ONE
Stacy Tile’s The Bye Bye Man is one of the very few women-directed horror films to get a wide theatrical release, and despite largely mixed to negative reviews, it should be applauded for that feat. Personally I found it surprisingly enjoyable, if you allow it to take you along for the ride. Elliot is a super cool band t-shirt wearing guy who decides to move into a huge house (how they pay for it? no idea. just go with it!) with his girlfriend and best friend, to save on rent money by living off-campus. Strange things start to happen in the house by way of The Bye Bye Man, a supernatural entity who is summoned by saying his name, and distorts reality so that each character believes things are happening to them that actually aren’t, causing a rift between friends, and sparking a huge fight because of a love triangle in the house. Creature aficionado Doug Jones plays The Bye Bye Man accompanied by his hell hounds, that do often seem silly but the distortion of whats real and whats fake is a brilliant concept and heightened throughout the film, keeping you tethered to whatever crazy stories the plot comes up with.
THE BLACK COMEDY PREGNANCY SLASHER
Alice Lowe written, directed and starred in Prevenge whilst she was heavily pregnant, even greater still, it’s a black comedy horror that focuses on a pregnant woman whose in-utero baby possesses a demonic voice that talks to her and compels her to commit murders. It’s inherently British right down to its core and perfectly blends comedy and the slasher genre to the utmost brilliance, providing witty commentary on pregnancy, women’s bodies and how when ‘the most beautiful experience of your life’ isn’t that beautiful. It’s completely honest and open and not afraid to get down and dirty.
THE BLOODY ONE
Another film categorised under the New French Extremity movement, Claire Denis’ Trouble every day is an incredibly carnal and bloody look at obsession and lust, and when lust turns to violence. Core is a woman married to a doctor named Leo, who keeps her locked in a room because she exacts lustful killings on men when she is let out. She is the object of of another man’s obsession, Shane, who travels to the town where Core and Leo live supposedly on his honeymoon with his new wife, but really wants to find Core and see how she is.
Similar to In My Skin and The Love Witch, Trouble Every Day is a gristly look at lust in its most violent forms and a powerful statement on how women can use their bodies to seduce and gain power over men.
You can rent it on GooglePlay for £2.49 or stream it on Shudder.
THE INTRUDER ONE
Directed by Laura Lau and Chris Kentis, Silent House is a psychological intruder horror that plays out as if it is one continuous take. Elizabeth Olsen stars in the leading role of Sarah, a young woman who goes to her parents old house in the country with her dad and uncle in order to renovate the house. Sarah becomes convinced that there is someone in the house, and is plagued by visions of a young girl and becomes increasingly paranoid during the film, experiencing vivid hallucinations of bloody imagery. The film is an exercise in psychosis and hidden trauma with some fantastic twists to play along with.
THE SOCIAL MEDIA ONE
Tara Subkoff’s #Horror is inherently millennial and middle class, offering a troubled look into the lives of a group of largely rich teen girls at their sleepover, that is until a night of online bullying and a myriad of selfies goes horribly wrong for the girls, and they start to drop one by one in a murder frenzy. It’s incredibly ballsy in its nature and explores big modern themes, with a clinical and bizarre aesthetic but still manages to hold onto the roots of a typical slasher film with bold commentary on the plight of today’s teenage girls and internet culture.
It is available to stream on Netflix UK & US.
THE LITTLE KNOWN SEQUEL ONE
Sissy Spacek scared audiences in 1976 in Brian de Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel ‘Carrie’, fast forward 23 years and Katt Shea offers a new age the bloody telekinesis treatment. The original Carrie has gone, but now her half-sister Rachel roams the new high school building, not far from where the original one burnt down. She too possesses telekinetic powers, and uses them to exact revenge on her tormentors, and the boys who have shamed and taken advantage of her best friend, Lisa.
It’s incredibly 90s, and a perfect companion to anyone watching the likes of Ginger Snaps and The Craft, seeing women take full autonomy over their bodies and choices. Sure, it’s not as good as the original but it harks back to iconic 1976 Carrie moments and delivers in its version of the prom scene, when Rachel gets her own back at a huge party.
You can rent it for $2.99 on Vudu
THE DEMONIC ONE
Mirror, Mirror is a little known early 90s gem, boasting the goth vibes of The Craft with a Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice-esque leading lady. Directed by Marina Sargenti, it focuses on a young outcast named Megan, who acquires an antique mirror when she moves to her new home. The mirror seems to drip blood and is a demonic force that grants Megan whatever she wants.
Similar to Carrie, Megan gets her own back on the bullies and the mirrors demon begins to possess her, the stronger it grows. Confronted by the mirror’s previous owner Nikki, its a race against time to get the mirror destroyed before Megan can no longer return to her regular self.
You can rent it on Amazon US for $0.99
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screenqueens. She is 22 and from the north of England (the proper north). She believes Harmony Korine is the future and is pretty sure she coined the term ‘selfie central’. She doesn’t like Pina Coladas or getting caught in the rain but she does like Ezra Miller a whole lot. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, The Beach and Lords of Dogtown. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff.
Categories: Women Film-makers