This article is part of our ongoing series, 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Let’s get something out of the way: creating a list such as this is a somewhat contentious matter. There’s an argument to be made that distinguishing horror films made by women creates a sub-genre where there isn’t one, that it places the films on this list into some imagined, shared box when what unites them isn’t their content but their creators. It’s logical to have qualms about making something that potentially tokenizes films by women, and there’s a strong case to be made that without any lists of “Horror Films By Men,” to single out women is to resist normalizing these films as standing on their own.
However, when films by women are woefully underproduced, underfunded, and underscreened, highlighting the accomplishments of female filmmakers is an opportunity to celebrate some of the best horror films that have come from circumstances where directors had to fight especially hard to get their films made. While we here at FSR’s Boo Crew resist the attitude that films by women should be treated as a novelty, we are always eager to talk about the films we love with a focus on the admirable people who created them.
In our deliberation over the best horror films by women, there was an embarrassment of riches to choose from and it was near-impossible to widdle this down to ten. For context: my personal favorite, Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day, didn’t even make the cut. That’s how stacked this list is!
Without any further ado, we now present the ten greatest horror films directed by women, as chosen by Meg Shields, Rob Hunter, Chris Coffel, Kieran Fisher, Valerie Ettenhofer, Brad Gullickson, Jacob Trussell, and yours truly.
10. The Babadook (2014)
A death is a bomb in a family. The sudden removal of one member ruptures every other dynamic within the unit. Mother and son become alien to each other. Anger, rage, and contempt bubble under every interaction. Writer/Director Jennifer Kent stirs the stew of grief into a sludge of agonizing pain, and from that muck The Babadook erects itself. There is a version of this film minus the supernatural specter that would have been recognizable, relatable, and probably cathartic. But it would also just miss the emotional truth of what a life-shattering event loss can be. The Babadook creature perfectly captures the terror and turmoil that shadows everything when a loved one vanishes. To grow beyond such hell, you must confront the beast and make terms with it. Only a horror film such as this could truly encapsulate this very real catastrophe. (Brad Gullickson)
9. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
There’s never been a vampire film quite like A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Shot in California by first-time director Ana Lily Amirpour, the film takes place in Iran with all dialogue spoken in Persian. It’s also a film that couldn’t have been directed by a man because it requires an eye – and lived in perspective – that someone like myself does not have. Men do not know what it’s like to live in a state of on-edge, a default mode of subconscious defense because men can be fucking monsters. We don’t always have to look over our shoulders when walking home – alone – at night. So when the titular girl (Sheila Vand) begins to knock off bros on her Iranian cities lonely streets, it’s a metaphorical way for Amirpour to take back the night. To exercise the agency men are privileged to have. But it needs a counterbalance, and through this subtext, the film is filled with enough humor, gore, and dazzling style to keep those not reading between the lines engaged. If you feel the vampire genre has run dry in the last decade, take a dip in the oasis of Amirpour’s opus. (Jacob Trussell)
8. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
The Slumber Party Massacre wasn’t just directed by a woman (hello Amy Holden Jones!), it was written by one too (hello Rita Mae Brown!). Interestingly, while shot as a straight-forward genre effort, Brown originally wrote the film’s screenplay as a slasher genre parody, and the result is a film with a tongue in its cheek and a dark sense of humor. As far as plot is concerned, the contents match the box: a high school senior named Trish throws a slumber party, but there’s an escaped, power drill-wielding mass murderer on the loose! The Slumber Party Massacre is clever little slasher that’s kinder to women while doing its gory due-diligence. Eating pizza on top of a dead delivery boy? Huge mood! (Meg Shields)
7. Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Humanity has finally come around on this movie and it’s about damn time. Karyn Kusama’s horror-comedy was mishandled by Fox upon its release and marketed to teen boys. Instead of being the object of a fetishistic gaze as many assumed it was, Jennifer’s Body is an insightful and gleefully bloody take on a possession narrative. The story follows Needy’s (Amanda Seyfried) emotionally conflicted plight as she turns against her bloodthirsty best friend Jennifer (Megan Fox). Jennifer was possessed by a demon after being stabbed and left for dead by a slimy rockband intending to make a deal with the devil and exchange Jennifer’s life for their fame and fortune. It backfired and left Jennifer with a hunger for human flesh. The film’s indictment of male entitlement to female bodies — and the violence born from this — is especially relevant to contemporary feminist readings of the film. Kusama’s incisive take on teen-girlhood is kicked up to high gear with some glorious death scenes that are indulgent but not exploitative. The film is delightfully quotable with snappy dialogue courtesy of writer Diablo Cody’s finest script thus far in her career (you heard me). All of this is anchored by stellar performances from the two co-leads, an especially bittersweet fact considering how Fox’s emerging talent was scoffed at by Hollywood-at-large. Jennifer’s Body is now praised as a modern cult classic and there are few films more deserving of this high regard. (Anna Swanson)
6. The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Ida Lupino‘s 1953 film was the first noir to be directed by a woman and if that isn’t notable enough, it’s a hell of an ingenious entry in the genre. Inspired by a real-life spree killer, The Hitch-Hiker follows two friends who pick up a hitchhiker while en route to a small Mexican town for a fishing trip. Turns out, this hitchhiker is a psychopathic killer. He kidnaps the duo and forces them to assist in his escape into Mexico. Brilliantly crafted with rich details such as the killer’s peculiar affliction — an eye that never closes — The Hitch-Hiker is a clever and taut noir that deserves to be heralded as a landmark in genre cinema. (Anna Swanson)