Another post for Women in Horror Recognition Month. Last time around I shared a list of scary movies directed by women that I’m psyched to see, this time I’m sharing my thoughts on this sadly short list of horror films directed by women that I have already seen. If there are more than this (and I’m guessing/hoping there are,) I can’t think of them.
Please leave suggestions of other horror films written and/or directed by women in the comments!
1. American Psycho (Dir. Mary Harron)
I didn’t used to really think of this as a horror film, more like a violent satire, but I guess the two are hardly mutually exclusive. I frequently see this referred to as horror proper, so I am including it, especially because it is one of my favorite movies of all time. Christian Bale lecturing Jared Leto about Hewey Lewis and the News is priceless. Mary Harron’s masterful cinematic transfer of Bret Easton Ellis’ much-maligned censorship-bait keeps all the biting critique while honing the gender politics to a sharper, less problematic point. One of the best and most entertaining cinematic takedowns of what bell hooks used to call white supremacist capitalist patriarchy I’ve ever seen. Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman is a stunning creation and one the most enduring villans in the last few decades of film–to think, Harron had to fight tooth and nail, almost losing the project, to keep him in the role! I wish David Cronenberg had taken notes before casting (or at least directing) that sparkly vampire in Cosmopolis, but not all 1% nightmares are created equal…
2. Slumber Party Massacre (Dir. Amy Holden Jones)
Celebrated queer feminist novelist Rita Mae Brown is responsible for the screenplay of this parodic entry in the 80’s slasher genre. While such flicks have been more thoroughly deconstructed in the Scream series, Cabin in the Woods, and a number of lesser rip offs, SPM got to the roots of the ridiculousness first, while still functioning as horrifically viably as its sequel-ready cohorts, with enduringly entertaining results. More than just a notable pop culturally engaged feminist artifact of particular note, SPM is funnier and livlier than most similar films of it’s time by a long shot, and holds up as a good, bloody time today.
3. Jennifer’s Body (Dir.Karyn Kusama)
The film whose box office failure launched a thousand women-don’t-want-to-see-horror-after-all think pieces, even in my beloved Entertainment Weekly [link]. As if few of the young men who must exclusively be to thank for the success of every horror hit might want to see Megan Fox, or almost any of the potential mall audience even knew that this was both written and directed by women, or that horror films with female protagonists are anything new (see almost every teen-appeal horror film ever for a bevy of celebrated final girls. Jesus.)
One possible explanation for why this didn’t do well is that it wasn’t that good. It likely didn’t get great word of mouth, the key to most non-franchise fright flick success. It had a great conceit and two excellent sequences (stick around for the closing credits), but it wasn’t scary, and featured a lot of terrible, distancing CG effects. I absolutely enjoyed it, and would say it’s worth watching if you’re curious, but it didn’t quite hang together right. IMHO.
4. Pet Semetary (Dir. Mary Lambert)
I grew up obsessed with and terrified by horror films. The Gremlins trailer fucked my shit up as a six year old. The weird Gremlin tittering as soup pots rattled. Microwave explosions. Small enough to hide anywhere. Oh god, it was aweful. And the mere knowledge of Freddy Krueger fictional existence kept me up at night. I remedied my six year old’s fear by exploring horror…not by watching it (we were still renting VCRs at that point, and no way my parents would add some slasher flicks to the pile of My Little Pony and Star Wars fare) but by sneeking peeks at Hershal Gordon Lewis cases at the video store. The Wizard of Gore made a huge impression just based on the back cover’s mutilated magic show assistants waaaay before I ever saw the actual movie. These images made me fear the unimaginable monstrosities that must lurk within grownup horror, feeding my terrified fascination. I began reading synopses of every horror film I heard of in my parents’ Leonard Maltin Video Guides, dying of terrified curiosity. I watched PG/13 fare on cable. It wasn’t so scary. The real hard stuff must be in the R-rated films, I thought. By middle school my parents had withdrawn the ban on my watching R-rated movies, and I selected Pet Semetary as the entertainment for a sleepover. The scariest Stephen King book in film form–this was going to be the real deal! Right?
Wrong. To my relief and disappointment, the film didn’t scare me. At all. And thus began the whole frustrating cycle of life as a fearlover.
I should probably watch it again now that it’s been a few decades and my expectations are lower. Here is something to psych all of us up. Interesting how much more poignant this songs sounds now than at the time of its release. RIP Joey.
5. Twilight (Catherine Hardwick)
I KNOW. I know. The inclusion of this here speaks to the pathetically small number of fright flicks directed by women that I can recall seeing. Notable as one of the most successful “horror” films of all time, setting the stage for the most successful “horror” series of all time, by a very large margin. So there’s that. Also, to its credit, I was able to watch the whole thing with some help from intoxicants and snarky company, which is more than I can say for the book. Now let us never speak of it again.
Rather than a trailer, clip, or related music video, I will leave you with this: