Raw-Focus-World

15 horror films directed by women for female-fronted frights

Contributed by
Oct 26, 2018

We can't believe it's 2018 and we're still having to write this sh*t but yes, women can do horror.

Contrary to what the Jason Blums of the world would have you believe, finding horror flicks directed by women is not an impossible task. In fact, there is no "trying" to find female horror directors in the genre space. They're already out there, and they've been scaring the living daylights out of us for decades.

Maybe male producers are just focused on the wrong kind of horror? You know, the Freddys and Jasons, the slasher flicks and torture porns, the stuff that is brutal to look at but doesn't go deeper than the first cut.

We've rounded up some horror films that deal in the same level of thrills and chills. They're drenched in blood and guts and gore, enough to make your stomach churn, but they also bring something else to the table: a deeper meaning, a timely message, a fun-loving murder romp that makes you think.

So yeah, women can do horror, and you can whip out this list anytime someone says differently.

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Raw (2016)

Julia Ducournau's French-Belgian horror film was met with critics who claimed it too gory, too graphic for a general audience. A laughable notion, seeing as most horror flicks these days deal in body mutilations and cannibalism, but something about Ducournau’s story of a young woman who tastes meat for the first time and develops a craving for human flesh really rubbed people the wrong way. As far as we’re concerned, in horror, that’s usually a good thing. The film explores primal hunger of all kinds and melds eroticism and cannibalism with ideas of a grander nature, symbolism that sticks with you long after the blood has dried. It’s one of the best horror films of the decade and most of that is due to Ducournau’s relentless determination to focus in on the film’s stomach-churning qualities.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Billed as the “first Iranian vampire Western,” director Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature follows the story of a young woman prowling the streets of a ghost town called Bad City. It’s a decidedly feminist take on the idea of vampirism in horror. We watch the nameless woman hunt, stalk, and ultimately kill her prey as she aids prostitutes and finds a connection with a man as desperate and lonely as she is. It’s also a moody, gorgeously shot trip through the dark imagination of one of the most promising female filmmakers in genre.

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Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Jennifer’s Body was released in the wrong decade. There’s just no getting around it. The film, which carries staunchly feminist undertones, follows the story of two best friends forced to confront their darker natures. Megan Fox plays Jennifer, a young woman sacrificed by a local band in exchange for fame and fortune. She becomes possessed, seducing boys at her school and feasting on their bodies. Her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) discovers Jennifer’s dark secret and tries to protect the town, ultimately killing her friend and getting herself imprisoned in a psych ward. The film was panned by critics but most just didn’t understand director Karyn Kusama’s vision at the time. She gave us a sharp-tongued anti-heroine, one seeking revenge against an instilled patriarchy, and a more straight-forward, equally capable good guy in Seyfried, who enacts her own sort of vengeance in the end.

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Near Dark (1987)

Before Point Break, The Hurt Locker, and Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow was cutting her teeth in horror with this neo-Western flick about a young man from a small town who gets caught up with some nomadic vampires. The film featured a capable cast led by Bill Paxton and had a pretty interesting premise. It’s a teenage vampire love story, bloodier than Twilight, one steeped in Midwest culture and biker gangs. The ending might be tied a bit too neatly for some, but it’s bloody-fun ride, one that manages to extract some heartfelt moments in between all the violence and gore.

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Pet Sematary (1989)

A Stephen King adaptation, Mary Lambert’s second directorial effort charted the infamous journey of the Creed family, who move to a heavily-wooded area in Maine and begin having some strange encounters in the forest behind their home. Most critics took issue with Lambert’s vision for the film, claiming it was horrifying enough, but the director chose to focus on the eerie images of children drawn to cemeteries and haunting visions of a family ripped apart by supernatural forces instead of the slasher flicks that dominated the time. Because of that, her adaptation remains one of the better King-inspired films we’ve seen and certainly one of the strangest.

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Silent House (2011)

This independent horror flick written by Laura Lau and directed by Lau and Chris Kentis stars Elizabeth Olsen as a woman terrorized by her family’s vacation home. Based on a mostly true story, the film, which uses real-time footage and a continuous shot-style, follows Sarah (Olsen) a young woman helping her father and uncle repair her childhood vacation home. Strange happenings soon begin that lead Sarah down a dark path of discovery, drudging up family secrets and leading to a frightfully tense confrontation. Lau’s script and the film directorial style make sure we experience the horror solely through a woman’s eyes, with Olsen throwing herself into playing a woman suffering from childhood trauma and mental illness. It’s rare a horror film gets those two things right, but this one does.

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Kiss of the Damned (2012)

Inspired by the kind of Gothic vampire films that littered the '70s, Xan Cassavetes' Kiss of the Damned is a romantic tale of love amongst the undead. At least, it starts out that way as a human man named Paolo is turned into a vampire by the woman he loves, Djuna. The pair’s happily-ever-after is soon crashed by Djuna’s wild, morally unsound sister Mimi, who enjoys feeding off humans and wrecking her sister’s carefully cultivated life. Mimi wreaks havoc on the small Connecticut town Djuna calls home, causing problems for the vampire community and forcing Djuna to reckon with her own nature. But it’s the love story at the heart of this horrific tale that feels the most captivating.

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The Babadook (2014)

Jennifer Kent’s arthouse horror flick marks the director’s first foray into the film world. It's an impressive feat considering The Babadook is one of the highest-praised horror films of the last decade. Kent took inspiration from black-and-white B-horror movies of the '60s and '70s, crafting a stirring story about a mother struggling with resentment towards her son after the death of her husband. It’s a truly haunting tale, one that strikes a chord because of Kent’s determination to tie a taboo subject — unhappiness in motherhood — with something as eerily innocent as a children’s book character.

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Carrie (2013)

In 2013, Kimberly Pierce took on the tough job of adapting one of Stephen King’s most famous works. Adding to the pressure, Carrie had already been done once, back in 1976 by Brian De Palma starring Sissy Spacek. That Carrie was a horror classic soaked in blood and teenage rage. Pierce took a different approach with her modernized tale, delving into the psyche of a young woman constrained by her mother’s overprotectiveness, an outcast trying to find her way in the world. Chloe Grace-Moretz brings an innocence to the role in place of Spacek’s darker turn and Pierce manages to inject a fresh voice through the actress, revamping the story for a new generation.

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American Mary (2012)

This Canadian horror flick by Jen and Sylvia Soska is not for the weak of stomach. Katherine Isabelle plays Mary, a young surgical resident worrying over how she’ll pay for med school. By chance, she encounters the underground body modification community, performing voluntary surgeries on people looking to change parts of themselves in the most dramatic, gruesome of ways. Eventually, Mary becomes a rape victim after a party thrown by her former teacher turns ugly. She uses her skills to seek revenge while making a name for herself. It’s a bloody, feminist romp through the kind of gore-horror women are often victims of. Instead, the Soska sisters allow Mary to do the cutting, infusing her with dark wit and a steely demeanor.

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Mirror, Mirror (1990)

Marina Sargenti’s '90s horror film capitalizes on the tyranny of teenagedom and the horrors it can inflict. The film follows a high schooler named Megan who moves to a new town and a new house with a dark secret: a demonic mirror. Said mirror quickly imbibes her with awful powers, allowing her to seek revenge on the school bully and the rest of her tormentors before its power quickly grows out of control. It’s The Craft minus witches and some of the more problematic themes and Sargenti does a bang-up job of injecting teen angst into every bloody scene.

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Soulmate (2013)

Axelle Carolyn’s directorial debut is this British horror film about a woman who forges a connection with the undead. Audrey, a recent widow, decides to recover from a failed suicide attempt by staying at a cottage in the country. While there, she grieves for her husband, fights her own demons, and encounters a ghost haunting the property. Tim, a man who committed suicide nearly 30 years ago at the house, soon becomes Audrey’s companion as the two seek solace and comfort in one another before things turn more sinister. Set at a creeping pace, Carolyn’s film tackles difficult subjects in a Gothic setting and though it’s a traditional ghost story, it feels fresh in that the hauntings are less about causing frights and more about illuminating the darkest parts of a person’s psyche.

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American Psycho (2000)

It still shocks people that American Psycho, the black-comedic horror film about a man who cuts up prostitutes and has obsessive-compulsive tendencies, was co-written and directed by a woman. It shouldn’t, of course, because director Mary Harron understood the material in a way her male counterparts — people like Oliver Stone who was once attached to the project — just couldn’t. Harron tempers Patrick Bateman’s descent into madness with a flashy, off-kilter deep dive into 80s nostalgia, the excess, the consumerism, the vanity that ruled the decade. It’s as timely now as it was then, and the enduring shock and awe value can be directed to Harron and her star, Christian Bale.

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Trouble Every Day (2001)

Claire Denis’ erotic French horror film about a man who locks his deranged wife in their house at night trades in existentialism and a reversal of gender roles. Dr. Leo Sémeneau is a celebrated physician living a low-key life in order to hide his wife, Core’s violent tendencies. Core likes to seduce men and then murder them in the most gruesome of ways. When Dr. Shane Brown decides to hunt the couple down, he too adopts Core’s appetites after murdering her in her own home. It’s an interesting take on the genre, done in a constrained style, dripping with metaphors and unafraid to show its female characters in the worst possible light.

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In My Skin (2002)

Marina de Van directs and stars in this French horror film about a woman who experiences a psychotic break and begins mutilating her own body, eventually eating her flesh. The film is part of the New French Extremity phase, a term coined after a group of French directors began evoking themes of psychosis, bestial violence, and sexual exploitation in their works of genre. De Van’s film unflinchingly paints a portrait of a young woman who feels a disassociation between herself and her body who takes that to extremes through acts of increasing self-violence. It’s a rough watch to be sure, but between the more gruesome images, there’s a theme of self-identity there that feels viscerally important.

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