Here at Father Son Holy Gore, we’re not waiting for a month or a week designated for the purpose: we’re celebrating great horror movies directed by women!
Horror’s often deemed— by ignorant dudes with angry balls— as a man’s genre. Not only that, horror made by men can, all too occasionally, devolve into misogynistic terror serving no purpose other than to be used as a male’s wet dream. It’s a genre propped up by women: they’ve been murdered as Final Girls, vilified as bad mothers and ‘whores’ and teasers who somehow turn men into murderous entities; they’re killed in gruesome, misogynistic ways by men who wield phallic weaponry with which to penetrate them; and the sad, tedious list of ways the genre’s disrespected women goes on eternally.
Horror’s far from being the domain of men. This list is just part of what helps prove that. The following is a compilation of (just some of) Father Gore’s favourite horror movies directed by women. Some are quite well known. Others are like treasures which horror fans have already discovered, and loved, that could do well with more exposure.
After you’re done reading, drop into the comments. Let everyone know YOUR favourite horrors directed by women. Make sure to share this with your guy friends, too. The ladies are already well aware of their gender’s contributions to the genre— it’s us men who’ve got to learn to widen our tastes.
Before the general public caught up on issues of representation, Jackie Kong was carving out her own unique little niche in the world of genre filmmaking. Her 1983 feature debut, The Being, managed to score both Jose Ferrer and Martin Landau to star in a movie about a toxic waste monster wreaking havoc in a small town. She did a couple other flicks, though it’s her 1987 cannibal horror comedy, Blood Diner, which has captured the hearts of B-movie fans everywhere.
Part of what’s so awesome about Kong’s two horrors is she never takes things too seriously, except for the spirit of horror itself. When so many dumb men think women can’t be weird and nasty, they need to look no further than Ms. Kong, whose foray into horror left its mark, one way or another.
Claire Denis is a master. Literally one of the greatest directors to have ever lived. Some of her work, though singular and definable as Denisian, is more typical to her calibre of filmmaker— what we’ve come to expect from the directors and writers considered auteurs.
One of her atypical movies is the 2001 horror, Trouble Every Day.
Denis uses cannibalism to explore the lengths to which people will go for love, how love consumes us, and what sort of monsters we can become in pursuit of it. Vincent Gallo, though a useless human being, does great work here as a newlywed husband with a dark secret. Alex Descas turns up— as he so often does in a Denis film— playing a semi-reclusive doctor in exile. It’s the spellbinding Béatrice Dalle who plays the doctor’s wife, a woman with her own terrifying secret, that makes Trouble Every Day so powerfully raw. One the 21st century’s great horrors.
There are so many vampire movies it’d be a pain in the ass to list even ALL the best, because, despite there being a vast number of bad ones out there the good far outweighs that number. Among the good are also masterpieces!
Kathryn Bigelow— before her stint of war flicks, from K-19: The Widowmaker to the fantastic The Hurt Locker and the much less fantastic, troubling, CIA-approved Zero Dark Thirty, and before her awesome run of genre fare (Blue Steel, Point Break, Strange Days)— gave us one of the best modern vampire movies.
Near Dark encompasses a lot of things: family, romance, contemporary Gothic, betrayal, difference. Bigelow’s vision of a vampire family roaming America in search of blood is as thrilling as it is macabre. Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen are two immediately identifiable genre greats— Paxton’s performance is so much dark fun it’s criminal— but Jenny Wright, Jenette Goldstein, and Joshua John Miller each do their part to make this one hell of a memorable movie, too.
There aren’t enough mermaids in today’s fiction. Mostly, a lack of REAL mermaids. Many of the original mythologies about sirens didn’t depict these half-aquatic, half-human creatures as beautiful. They showed mermaids as hideous and frightening things, which is why they used their beautiful songs to lure their prey towards the shores, where they’d kill men by crashing their ships or worse.
The Lure works along the very lines of this dichotomy. Two mermaid sisters— Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszańska)— find living amongst regular people is tough. Silver becomes enamoured with the night club life and musicians. Golden can’t stop killing to feed her blood lust.
Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s horror musical is a coming-of-age tale, inspired by her own life with a mother who ran a nightclub. Her use of mermaids, in the darkly comic, horrific style she uses, is a refreshing take on the mythology, and an interesting, loose interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.
Not to be missed.
Jennifer Lynch followed her father David into the world of directing, after penning The Secret Diaries of Laura Palmer at 22 years old for him and his Twin Peaks co-creator, Mark Frost. That’s where similarities stop. Jennifer’s developed a unique style within the horror genre’s confines— she’s also done great work in television on American Horror Story and The Walking Dead.
Jennifer’s debut feature Boxing Helena wasn’t well received, though Father Gore’s a fan. 15 years later she returned with 2008’s horror-thriller Surveillance. The cast is phenomenal: Julia Ormond, Bill Pullman, Michael Ironside, French Stewart, plus Hugh Dillon and Cheri Oteri as a hilarious married couple.
Ms. Lynch’s directing turns the movie into something wholly ‘other.’
She uses different film stocks processed in a variety of ways to portray the perspectives of the many disparate characters. The structure of the plot works in a non-linear style, keeping the viewer guessing until late in the game as to what’s actually happening. One of those twisted movies with a promising third act reveal.
Four years later, Lynch directed Chained, starring Vincent D’Onofrio and Eamon Farren. It’s a cruel and brutal tale of a serial killer who abducts a young boy after killing his mother, turning the child into his protege. Saying anything further would spoil it. Another movie with a solid twist, albeit most of the intrigue and intensity in the screenplay comes from the dynamic between the killer v. his reluctant apprentice. D’Onofrio has such power as an actor, and to see him once more become a vicious man— not TOO far off from the killer he played in The Cell— is an unsettling experience.
Mary Lambert’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel Pet Sematary will forever be my favourite version, no matter how many times they decide to re-envision the story onscreen.
It isn’t perfect, but why does that matter, exactly?
The mood of Lambert’s 1989 movie is paramount to its success. She nails the New England Gothic feel without having to resort to a decidedly haunted house setting. She explores the rural spaces of Maine with grim fascination, no matter if the fabulous Fred Gwynne, playing old man Jud Crandall, lays on the faux-accent too thick.
Lambert’s choices as a director, from the Gothic transformation of the house in the climactic scenes, to the moments with Zelda (played by a man, Andrew Hubatsek) have left generations of horror fans scarred. This woman knew what she was doing, and even if all the elements don’t work as well as they should, the atmosphere and mood of Pet Sematary make it an unforgettable ’80s classic.
Father Gore has a theory: Bret Easton Ellis is such a fucking asshole because Mary Harron took his, let’s face it, mediocre text American Psycho (which would’ve been leagues better if Tom Wolfe had never picked up a pen) and turned it into a horror movie masterpiece. Prove it wrong.
Harron’s American Psycho retains the good bits of Ellis while playing more with the interesting themes the author left in the backseat. Ellis overemphasised the 1980s heyday of American culture, to pretentious degree, whereas Harron uses it as part of a larger thematic mosaic which speaks to those ideas (materialism, capitalism, and all that’s wrapped up in them) while also focusing on misogyny as an offshoot of that same culture. Ellis tries to claim his novel does the same thing, though Father Gore disagrees.
Harron— along with co-writer Guinevere Turner— make things slightly less ambiguous than in the source material. What makes the movie so effective is there’s less of a smug, know-it-all sense to the style, like there is in everything Ellis writes, and more of a dark wink-wink, nudge-nudge quality that’d rather us all be in on the horrific joke than attempt to outsmart us.
Anything with Carol Kane is worth watching for Carol Kane, and the same could really be said for Lee Grant. The Mafu Cage features them both in an unnerving pair of roles, playing sisters who are JUST TOO CLOSE— like, incest close.
The addition of apes and the mansion’s Gothic drives this into creepy territory. A spectacle to behold. On top of that, director Karen Arthur spent time in a psychiatric hospital to research for the production, adding an air of unease.
Like the best modern Gothic stories, The Mafu Cage poses questions about contemporary humanity v. primitive humanity, aided by the presence of the apes. Father Gore believes this is an underrated gem. Definitely a worthy title to be on a list of horror movies directed by women.
The New French Extremity‘s produced interesting work. One of those films is Marina de Van’s Dans Ma Peau (English title: In My Skin). De Van also stars as the protagonist, Esther, whose obsession with self-mutilation emerges after a small but nasty accident and threatens to destroy her life/body.
This is a tough piece of cinema. Not everyone will want to sit through it, especially those who’ve had their own history of self-mutilation. De Van separates the scope of her story from suicidal ideation— Esther’s not looking to kill herself. In a larger way, the movie IS about self-destruction, just not necessarily the depressive sort. The story and its plot explore how people can implode and cut themselves off from society. Although the visceral body horror is unavoidable, the psychological aspects are most important, as de Van tries to illustrate, in a highly literal fashion, how someone can figuratively take themselves apart, bit by bit.
Dark Touch is another movie from de Van, vastly different from the previous one. This has a different perspective on the ‘evil child’ sub-genre. It’s also jam-packed with atmosphere— the tone is dark, dark, dark. One of the first movies of its ilk that Father Gore found super interesting in a long while, at the time it came out in 2013. Always nice to see a woman directing a story about a young girl who’s experiencing the difficulties of growing up, with an extra cherry of disturbing horror on top.
Ignore the hype about Raw sending people rushing from the theatre to vomit. Not because there aren’t disturbing moments, and not because there aren’t ay scenes of corporeal nastiness that’ll make certain stomachs queasy, but because there’s so much more to Julia Ducournau’s fascinating movie than a few gross-outs.
The screenplay concerns a young woman coming into her own as she goes into a college to study as a veterinarian. There, she has a life changing experience involving her older sister. What comes out of this is a tale of transgressive love, which examines the thin veil between human and animal.
Truly one of the better cannibalism movies in the horror genre. A unique story.
There are many ‘killer kid’ movies. The Godsend, though far from perfect, is a compelling entry in this sub-genre. There’s a lot of human drama at the core. Director Gabrielle Beaumont focuses on the people at the heart of the ‘killer kid’ dilemma, and the kid is not what’d you expect, either.
Instead of going for jump scares and elaborately explained moments of terror, Beaumont opts for atmosphere, tension, and, in the finale, subtlety. Not every horror fan is going to love this one. For those with patience they’ll find Beaumont’s feature debut well worth the time to track down.
Horror movies and grief go hand-in-hand. There’s no shortage of them, despite a recent article from Vice claiming Happy Death Day2U was the first (HIRE BETTER HORROR WRITERS WHO ACTUALLY KNOW THE GENRE— WE DO EXIST, Y’KNOW!). Jennifer Kent reworked her earlier short into a full-length feature tackling this exact subject with 2014’s The Babadook.
Sure, the kid’s a bit grating, but it’s all part of the plot. He and his mother are thrown into a terrifying existential situation in which their lives are haunted by a threatening entity from a children’s book. The mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), at first thinks the Babadook is just a manifestation of her son’s grief. She soon discovers different.
The whole thing is spooky. Kent’s striking imagery draws off the surreal, terrifying images of German Expressionism. But, again, like so many other quality horrors, The Babadook is above all about the power grief holds over individuals and families. Another that’ll go down as a classic.
Ravenous has, thankfully, been having a revival lately. Many are fans of this cult movie from 1999, directed by Antonia Bird. Her filmography, by the way, is fantastic (Priest and Face specifically are magic). Nevertheless, this movie doesn’t get the love it deserves, even as people discover its merits 20 years later.
Bird tells an interesting story, mixing the cannibalism sub-genre of horror with historical fiction and an overarching commentary on colonialism/manifest destiny. There are a bunch of solid performances. Robert Carlyle and Guy Pearce are utterly brilliant in their respective roles— their showdown in the subdued yet crazy finale is a sight to be seen with your own eyes, including a darkly comic ending to boot.
Truly one of the most unsung classics in the past couple decades. Again, thankfully people are finding this one, as fans keep spreading their love for this flick far and wide. Bless Ms. Bird for offering one of the best horrors of the ’90s, proving the decade is far from a bad one like certain gatekeepers will try to convince you.
If you couldn’t get enough of Rose Leslie as Ygritte on Game of Thrones, she gives a tour-de-force performance in Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon, alongside Harry Treadaway as her confused and horrified husband.
Honeymoon is about a young married couple on their eponymous trip after the wedding. Janiak uses the movie to ask tough questions. Do we truly know the people we love, or can they still manage to hide things from us? Of course the story operates on the level of a metaphor about interpersonal relationships, specifically the deep, romantic, scary plunge of marriage. Janiak doesn’t only focus on other possible readings. She digs deep into the horror and science fiction here, creating a story of dread, both existential and physical, that’s hard to ignore. Leslie and Treadaway offer powerful performances, though it’s the former whose power truly helps the movie fly to disturbing heights.
Evolution is a perfect, twisted companion piece to Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s earlier 2004 movie Innocence. Each of them focus on gender in a uniquely unsettling way. Innocence is like a dark fairy tale for girls, whereas Evolution feels like a science fiction parable aimed at young boys. The former takes place in a lush, if not strange forest. The latter is set in a weird coastal town near the edge of a looming industrial city.
Hadzihalilovic rivals her husband Gaspar Noé in the way she aims at difficult, sometimes abstract concepts. She’s nowhere near as explicit or nasty as Noé— of whom Father Gore is a massive fan— instead going for subtlety, straying much deeper into metaphor as a method of delivery for her subject matter.
One thing’s certain: Evolution is a dreadful ride that’s visually gorgeous and thematically compelling as much as it is disturbing. A breath of fresh, awful air.
Go on, Karyn Kusama! Get it, lady!
Even if you don’t dig Kusama’s earlier movies, from the wrongfully maligned Jennifer‘s Body to Æon Flux and Girlfight, her work over the past few years has been incredibly interesting. Her latest, Destroyer, is an atypical dirty cop flick starring Nicole Kidman in a Charlize Theron level, Monster-like physical transformation. Before that, she gifted the horror world with a masterpiece of psychological fuckery.
The Invitation doesn’t just let us marvel at the handsomeness of Logan Marshall-Green and his luscious beard, neither is it only about Tammy Blanchard’s truly haunted performance, the movie goes full bore towards its themes, never allowing us a minute of relaxation between stints of unbearable suspense.
Don’t read anything else about it if you haven’t yet seen the movie.
Go. Watch. Now.
Ana Lily Amirpour is a gift to us all. We must respect her accordingly. (She directed an episode of the new Twilight Zone recently and, despite naysayers, it’s a great episode in a wonderful new update to the classic series.)
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was a moody debut for Amirpour, giving us a new vision of vampirism that draws off her Iranian roots, as well as her American ones. The black-and-white cinematography is an exciting contrast of light and dark, fitting with vampire themes as a visual symbol unto itself. Sheila Vand as the Girl is mesmerising, and the director’s style is so affecting.
A few years after her debut, Amirpour directed The Bad Batch. While other critics weren’t as happy with this follow-up, Father Gore found it a wildly imaginative view of the current divided America, separating people along lines of gender, race, class, disability, and more.
This dystopian vision of America— a desert wasteland filled that includes Jason Momoa’s glistening, musclebound cannibal, Keanu Reeves as an entrepreneurial criminal hosting a never ending EDM oasis, Jim Carrey playing a man who cannot speak and only communicates through pictures, and Suki Waterhouse depicting a woman looking to avenge her cannibalised limb— is a recipe for a one of a kind movie.
More on The Bad Batch here.