February's Women in Horror Month is a great opportunity to unite female horror enthusiasts, journalists, actors, directors, screenwriters, producers, and the like. But that doesn’t mean that the efforts of the women who fight for their place in the industry shouldn’t also be recognized throughout the year. There are many talented female directors, screenwriters, producers, and actors working in the production of genre films on a daily basis, but they don’t always receive the same level of recognition as their male counterparts. We hope for a time when Women in Horror Month will no longer be necessary, but we have a long way to go before that becomes a reality. So, to show our appreciation for the hardworking women who toil away in the horror genre, we'd like to spotlight five of our favorite female-helmed horror films.
Jennifer Chambers Lynch (Boxing Helena) turned out a restrained and gut-wrenching modern masterpiece with Chained. The script was originally penned in the style of ‘torture porn,’ but Lynch retooled the draft to make the film more about the characters and their relationships; the result is a beautifully photographed film with heartbreaking performances. Vincent D’Onofrio turns in an absolutely spot-on performance as the serial killer Bob. His relationship with his unwilling protégé Rabbit (Eamon Farren) is multilayered and ultimately heartbreaking, thanks in no small part to Lynch’s keen directorial prowess. Chained is not the type of film you pop in when you want to unwind and kick back; it’s the type of movie to watch when you're in the mood to see a film that is expertly constructed, and will undoubtedly make you feel something.
Slumber Party Massacre
This '80s slasher gem was crafted with Amy Holden Jones (The Rich Man’s Wife) at the helm. The plotline is pretty simple: a group of high school friends hold a slumber party and are picked off by an escaped mental patient with a drill and a demented idea of what ‘love’ is. The film raised a certain amount of controversy because, while it was intended to be a feminist’s response to the objectification and exploitation of women in slasher films, it follows some of the familiar tropes that audiences of the time had grown accustomed to. Rita Mae Brown, who penned the original draft, is among the film’s detractors. Realistically, we think the film walks the line quite well; the female characters embody many stereotypically male tendencies, and take on roles that are often occupied by men: the handyperson is a woman, the telephone repair person is a woman, the girls beat up the boys, the boys flunk gym class, and the boys' deaths are much more brutal than those of their female counterparts. As far as nudity is concerned, there is a bit of it, but it is fairly tongue-in-cheek, and no more gratuitous than what audiences saw in films like Halloween.
Near Dark is an early cinematic example of vampires exhibiting some human-like qualities, a trend that has since become almost the norm. The film boasts an impressive cast, including Aliens veterans Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen and Jenette Goldstein. The film made waves for throwing traditional vampire mythology to the wind, but audiences ate it up nonetheless. The film features strong performances from its leads and an interesting plotline involving a young man (Adrian Pasdar) chasing the girl of his dreams (Jenny Wright) who winds up part of a clan of bloodthirsty vampires. Kathryn Bigelow created a masterpiece with Near Dark, and has gone on to do great things since; her more recent works include a string of hits like Point Break, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.
If there ever were a contest for the most brutal Stephen King adaptation, Mary Lambert's Pet Sematary would certainly be a nominee; there's plenty of room for violence when the story revolves around a cemetery that has the ability to resurrect the dead with unpredictable results. Much of that violence involves the toddler Gage (Miko Hughes), including a particularly gut-wrenching scene where the lad is struck by a semi truck, but Lambert keeps it tactful despite of the film’s incredibly brutal and somewhat taboo subject matter. In less capable hands, the film could have been a disaster. Lambert did an excellent job of adapting King’s words for the screen, and was asked back to direct the 1992 sequel, which did not fare quite as well. She is also noteworthy for being the first female director to helm a Syfy original feature: Mega Python vs. Gatoroid. Um, thanks for that…
The sophomore feature from the ambitious directing duo of Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska, also known as “The Twisted Twins,” is brutal in its subject matter, but surprisingly restrained in its actual depiction of onscreen violence. We are not subjected to gratuitous lingering shots of victims having their bones sawn off, or overly graphic surgical procedures. What makes the movie special is its strong feminist point of view: it takes a stand in favor of empowering women, but does so without alienating male viewers. American Mary brings us a strong protagonist who doesn’t need to be rescued by a man and can stand up for herself. Katharine Isabelle does a remarkable job as Mary, a medical student who finds herself involved in the underground world of body modification as a means to pay off her mounting debt. Isabelle has often stated that Mary has zero redeeming qualities on paper, but that she attempted to bring the character to life in a way that would endear the audience to her as much as possible. The Twisted Twins have a promising career ahead of them: they have just been tapped to direct See No Evil 2, and will contribute a segment to The ABCs of Death 2.
What are some of your female-helmed horror films? Let us know in the comments below.