As the annual Women in Horror Month points out, there are numerous female filmmakers, writers, actresses, and artists who are currently making their mark on the world of horror. However, if it wasn’t for the tireless dedication and deep genre love of a few pioneers, we might not have celebrated the 8th Annual Women in Horror Month back in February.
Performers such as Jamie Lee Curtis and Heather Langenkamp helped strong female actresses change the face of horror by transforming women from victims into heroines. In turn, this paved the way for women to finally sit in the director’s chair of some major horror films.
Let’s take a closer look at 10 of the movies that were among the most important in the evolution of female horror filmmaking and horror in general.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
Love it or hate it, the divisive sixth entry into the A Nightmare on Elm Street series is highly notable for at least one reason; it was the first major horror film sequel to be directed by a woman. Yes, there were several successful horror movies helmed by women before Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, but never before had a large company given an established genre series and a big budget to a female director.
Rachel Talalay worked her way up through the series as a production manager until she managed to break through the horror film industry’s glass ceiling with her take on everyone’s favorite wisecracking villain.
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Speaking of firsts, The Hitch-Hiker was the first major thriller and film noir with a female director. Although the classification of “horror” wasn’t given to this film during its 1953 release, it’s clearly a good early example of the survival horror subgenre. Director Ida Lupino co-wrote the script and would go on to direct several episodes of the anthology television series Thriller, which was hosted by Boris Karloff.
The Babadook (2014)
The Babadook has many things going for it that make it an important horror movie overall, regardless of who was at the head of the creative team. It ranks number 10 in the Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 Horror Movies list, and it also has the distinction of being one of the first partially crowdfunded horror movies to be strong enough to garner critical and audience praise. Director and writer Jennifer Kent brought this original and thought-provoking Australian horror film to life.
Pet Sematary (1989)
This classic Stephen King film was directed by Mary Lambert. Not only is Pet Sematary a nostalgic favorite for many horror fans but it is also the highest grossing female-directed horror film in the U.S. to date. With domestic box office receipts totaling $57.4 million, Pet Sematary also ranks in the top 100 highest U.S. grossing horror films of all time. Lambert followed up her success with an episode of Tales from the Crypt and Pet Sematary II.
American Psycho (2000)
Mary Herron accomplished what many in Hollywood thought was impossible with her dark and scathingly humorous take on the novel American Psycho. Perhaps even more interesting and noteworthy was her willingness to tackle material that had been frequently derided for containing overt misogyny. In Herron’s hands, American Psycho managed to make Patrick Bateman into a beloved anti-hero.
Near Dark (1987)
Kathryn Bigelow would go on to become an esteemed, Academy Award winning director, but first, she gave us the cult classic Near Dark. This ambitious vampire film features numerous genres at once, ranging from horror to Western, and it also includes one of Bill Paxton’s most memorable performances.
Writer and director Julia Ducournau turned so many stomachs during a screening of Raw that two people literally passed out. This dark, disturbing look at the destructive peer pressure people exert upon others takes a turn for the nasty when the main character transforms from a lifelong vegetarian into a voracious cannibal. Filled with scenes of ultra-realistic gore, Raw was almost branded with an NC-17 rating. It also showcases the fact that female directors can produce work that is just as deeply disturbing and blood-soaked as men. Raw, which scored a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, is a provocative piece of cinema that is filled with symbolism.
The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
On the surface, this horror-comedy appears to be yet another scary movie that focuses solely on killing attractive women wearing skimpy clothing. What many people may not know, though, is that this film was written by feminist author Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones. The subject matter was actually intended as a parody of slasher films, but The Slumber Party Massacre managed to also become a popular entry in the slasher subgenre.
Several highly revered male horror directors such as Sam Raimi got their start making movies with friends during their teenage years. The director and writer of Pathogen, Emily Hagins, earned a spot on this list by completing and releasing a zombie movie at the tender age of 12.
Yes, there are some technical errors in the movie, and it’s not going to be for everyone. Fans of independent horror films and old school zombies will find a lot to like, though. Inspiring other young girls to follow in the director’s footsteps definitely makes Pathogen an important female-helmed horror movie.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
An Iranian black and white vampire movie would have been unusual enough on its own, but the fact that it was written and directed by a woman makes this innovative, film festival favorite even more memorable. Ana Lily Amirpour picked up seven awards for A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and she also brought new life to vampire cinema with this genre-bending offering.
Of course, there are several other influential horror films directed by women, and many more are on the way. Which films on, or off, of this list are your favorite? Leave a comment below!