If female directors are a minority, then even more rare are female horror directors. It’s hard to find a reason for such a lack of production, considering the importance of the female figure in horror cinema. Maybe, because of this fact, women find it hard to jump behind the camera. Even with relevant exceptions, in horror movies women are mostly portrayed as stereotypical and shallow characters.
It’s fair to say that social progress has given more women the possibility to reach professional roles previously perceived as strictly masculine. There have always been female directors, but they were as rare as gold in a scene widely dominated by men.
This list focuses on films from the last fifteen years, in order to show how female created movie production has widely increased and is now considered (almost) ordinary, from indie to mainstream cinema, from East to West. The list is in no particular order, as each film has been chosen for a particular feature.
1. Jennifer’s Body (2009, Karyn Kusama)
Starting with a mainstream film, this picture features Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried and Adam Brody. It’s a black comedy centering on a slutty cheerleader who is turned into a demon as a result of an unsuccessful black magic ritual.
Jennifer is the queen bee of her high school. She’s beautiful, shameless and sexually available. Her best friend Needy is quite her opposite: she’s cute, shy and, most of all, a virgin. When an indie rock band comes to town, Jennifer wants to become their groupie. However, everything goes wrong when they offer her up as a virgin sacrifice to the Devil in order to become famous. Jennifer turns into a lusty blood-sucker demon, gorgeous and unstoppable.
The film is neither very original nor unpredictable, but it has some occasional funny moments. However it is filthy and more foul-mouthed, than might be expected from such a horror comedy. The use of voice-over is a bit abused, but helps in creating a contrast between the gory subject and the funny tone.
2. Honeymoon (2014, Leigh Janiak)
A contrast to the previous entry is the indie movie “Honeymoon”. A newly wed couple, Paul and Bea, decide to spend the honeymoon at their lake house. They’re completely isolated from the rest of the world, but it’s just the right scenario for their romantic holiday.
They walk through the woods, go fishing, prepare their breakfasts, and are more happy and in love than ever. By chance, Bea meets one of her old friends who seems weirdly preoccupied about his own wife. At first the couple doesn’t seem to worry about it, but that night Bea disappears in the woods and everything changes.
From a very traditional scenario, “Honeymoon” builds into an interesting film to watch, thanks to the directorial touches and development of the plot. The first half of the movie plays out as a romantic flick about a newly married couple, though the viewer feels a vague sense of discomfort even without understanding why.
From that mid-film turning point on, the film keeps building through a slow pace, the sense of unease. Special visual effects are used in the very last few minutes, and do not disappoint.
3. American Mary (2012, Jen and Sylvia Soska)
The Soska sisters’ story is the kind that gives new hope to female horror cinema. Since the pair were kids they’ve always been fascinated by horror movies. They started off their careers as actresses, but pretty soon they got tired of stereotypical roles for ladies, so they decided to get into directing. After attending film school and creating their first film as the final project at their graduation (Dead Hooker in a Truck), they directed “American Mary”.
Mary is a medical science student. Like many students, she struggles to scrape out a living, trying to keep afloat and earn her teachers’ respect. In need for quick cash, she decides to apply for a job in a night club, but while she’s doing her “audition”, an injured man is rushed in and she’s asked to patch him up and save his life.
From that point she enters in an underground world of extreme body modification which accepts her with open arms, while the formal medical world she once desired reveals its true face behind the mask.
Mary is a strong character. She does not give up and she is always ready to face any kind of situation (including stitching herself up). She’s witty and fearless, as are her new friends in the underground world. On the other hand, men are portrayed as horny monkeys strictly focused on the possession of women.
In this film, the maker’s aesthetic and ideology is fully shown: the strength of the female gender, a fascination for body modification culture, and support for gender equality.
The large array of characters who might be considered freaks are shown here in all their humanity, while the “normal”, social accepted people are shown to be the real monsters.
4. Kiss of the Damned (2012, Xan Cassavetes)
“Kiss of the Damned” may be the weakest film on this list. Despite being extremely stylish and having a polished mise en scène, it lacks in creative flair and riviting high points.
Paolo, a handsome man, meets Djuna, a beautiful woman. They fall in love with each other but, eventually, she is revealed to be a vampire. Their love is stronger than her curse, so she turns him into a vampire so that they may spend their eternal lives together. Unfortunately, the fairy tale is ruined by the sudden arrival of Djuna’s wicked sister Mimi, who makes their life impossible and tries to destroy the entire vampire community.
The film is aesthetically faultless, but sometimes it’s a bit predictable. The dynamics of the film are rigid and there’s no atypical movement nor any striking coup de thèatre.
The characters are shallow and distant from real life. The ataxia of immortal beings is well reflected in the almost apathetic rhythm of the film. Mimi is the only disturbing element, the one that brings blood back to the centre of the picture.
5. Nothing Bad Can Happen (2013, Katrin Gebbe)
“Tore Tanzt” can’t truly be considered a horror film, yet it earns a place on this list, thanks to its sense of nihilism and despair.
Tore is a young boy, affiliated with the religious cult “Jesus Freaks”, a sort of anarchic punk Christian sect. One day, by chance, he encounters a family, who seems to be willing to accept him as a member. He moves into their garden house, but soon it becomes clear that Benno, the head of the family, is only interested in receiving state money for the boy’s care as, all the while, he starts to dominate the young man.
Benno is also abusive towards his stepdaughter, who falls in love with Tore. As Benno starts to comprehend that he may be losing his power in the home, he starts to physically and psychologically torture the Tore. He humiliates him, starves him, then makes him eat rotten food and eventually lets others sexually assault him. Nevertheless, Tore doesn’t lose his faith, as it becomes, together with his love for the girl, the only thing that keeps him alive.
“Tore Tanzt” is very challenging to watch. It becomes a painful experience to bear. The viewer expects a payback which never comes. Tore goes through many tribulations, taking them as a challenge from God himself, though one which never shows up.
Benno is the dominant male of his home and everything is under his direct control. His wife and friends are no better than himself. They’re evil and never feel compassion for Tore. This is Katrin Gebbe’s first full-length film. It is inspired by true events.