Horror isn't known for being a woman-friendly genre. From the flailing histrionics of Fay Wray in “King Kong” to the slasher sub-genre and its attendant bevy of brainless, scantily-clad female victims, there's a perception — in some ways warranted — that the horror film caters in misogyny. And yet that's also a frustratingly reductive viewpoint. It seems obvious but I'll say it anyway: boiling down the horror genre to “Friday the 13th Part VII” is like boiling down the comedy genre to Adam Sandler's “Grown-Ups.” There is so much more to horror than “a girl running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door.”
So what of the women working behind the scenes? The number of high-profile woman directors who have worked in the genre remains frustratingly limited, yet there are a few who have not only managed to infiltrate the boys' club but created excellent films on top of it. The most recent example is Jennifer Kent's supernatural horror movie “The Babadook,” a critical favorite and minor sleeper success that will hopefully inspire more woman directors to entertain their darkest fantasies on the big screen. Below I've listed five more excellent (or at least good) horror movies that you may not have known were directed by women.
“American Psycho” (2000)
Christian Bale got most of the attention for this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's satirical 1991 novel with his acclaimed performance as white-collar serial killer Patrick Bateman, but Harron deserves credit for nailing the book's anarchic spirit.
“Carrie” was basically pooh-poohed by critics and audiences when it came out, and that's understandable: when you've got a talented auteur like Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don't Cry”) at the helm, it's hard not to wish she'd been given the resources to mount her own original vision. Still, taken on its own merits Peirce's “Carrie” is better than it has any right to be; all due respect to De Palma's sylistically-bold original, but she shows a more nuanced understanding of the social dynamics of high school and also does a fine job with the film's more overt “horror” elements.
Leigh Janiak was just hired to direct Sony's upcoming remake of “The Craft,” which is something of a shame given the auspiciousness of her original debut (welcome to Hollywoooood). In “Honeymoon” the talented young filmmaker posits the most hellish post-nuptial getaway imaginable, subverting the tired “cabin in the woods” setting with a terrific third act twist. The ride getting there is refreshing too; Janiak zigs where viewers expect a zag, ratcheting up the dread until it becomes almost unbearably taught.
“Near Dark” (1987)
Long before Kathryn Bigelow strode confidently past ex-husband James Cameron on her way to pick up the Best Picture Oscar for “The Hurt Locker” in 2010, she mounted this impressive (if slightly dated) vampire western starring Lance Henriksen as the grizzled leader of a pack of nihilistic desert vampires. The centerpiece scene that takes place in an isolated bar is harrowing and works up genuine sympathy for the victims of the bloodsucking gang, pointing to the humanistic bent she would bring to the war-movie genre two decades later.
This growing cult film was directed by the late Antonia Bird (“Priest,” “Mad Love”), who mounts a compelling, queasy and darkly comedic vision of the mid-19th century Western frontier with her film about the inhabitants of an isolated California military fort who become intimately acquainted with cannibalism after the arrival of a mysterious man (Robert Carlyle). Carlyle and Guy Pearce are both excellent here, and Bird brings style, intelligence and unexpected humor to Ted Griffin's bleak script.