Women have always been at the forefront of horror films. You can look at an array of some of the most iconic horror films in history, and notice that many of them have women at the center. From older classics such as Rosemary’s Baby to new successes like Hereditary, female protagonists are very common within the horror genre. Our emotions and bodies are mutilated to terrify the viewers. We scream and cry. We’re the plot devices, the final girls, the bodies for encompassing metaphors. Sometimes we’re provided with strong and liberating characters. Sometimes the lead characters just happen to be women; it’s neither empowering or degrading. And sometimes we’re tortured to a point of fetishization; a point that will go straight over men’s heads but make every woman in the audience shiver. Yet, despite some of the most iconic faces of horror being women, there is a severe lack of female horror directors making films in the genre. As of 2018, Blumhouse had never produced a horror film directed by a woman. Over eleven years, and not a single horror film directed by a woman. It’s almost improbable.
This hasn’t stopped female directors, though. In the past couple decades, there have been some brilliant and crucial horror films directed by women. And these films are ones only women could have made. Their new perspectives and outlooks on life bring a fresh new breathe to the genre. Women see the world a different way; a world that can be horrific and cruel to us. When you put a woman behind the camera and let her direct a horror film, she will craft a world that reflects her experiences in a way that has never been seen before.
One of the best recent examples of this is Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. This genre-bending Iranian vampire film brought something very unique to horror fans across the world. Shot in stunning black and white cinematography and backed by a hypnotic soundtrack, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night follows a young vampire known simply as “The Girl” who hunts and kills men that abuse women. Amirpour weaves together a deliciously satisfying string of character interactions that lead to the perfect conclusion. Everything about the film feels very unique, but part of what makes it all work so splendidly is the female perspective. The Girl is almost always in command of the screen, solidifying herself as a haunting and intriguing force. Her presence towers over the gross and abusive men she’s going after. The only time when she does not have this force is when she is around Arash, the only genuinely good man in the film who softens The Girl’s hard exterior, making her all the more complex. It’s a balance of genuine empowerment and humanity that only a woman; specifically, only Amirpour could pull off. She crafts an intriguing female lead and character relationships while also critiquing the societal indifference to female abuse.
Only a year after A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night came another hypnotic horror tale from a woman with a vision: The Lure. Agnieszka Smoczynska’s erotic mermaid musical-horror hybrid is something truly and wholly original. The film follows two young mermaid sisters named “Silver” and “Golden,” who get a job at a nightclub to show off their tails and enthrall more victims. The mermaid mythology in this film is not even close to that of Ariel – these sea creatures lure men in, have sex with them, then eat them alive. But, things change when Silver falls in love with one of the guitarists at the nightclub. He loves her too, but won’t have sex with her because she’s a mermaid. Silver is young, naive and will do anything to get her lover’s approval; unlike her sister, who seems to have completely disregarded romantic interest in her life and only uses men for feeding. Golden warns her against changing herself for a man’s approval, but Silver decides that she wants to replace her tail with legs for him. Smoczynska is able to show how women can put themselves through so much for a man they love, only for him not to appreciate her in return. He’ll ask her to change and she will change (even though she probably shouldn’t), then the man will decide he doesn’t like that change and will leave her in shambles. It’s something that’s as heartbreaking as it is terrifying, and it’s something almost every young girl who has struggled through a first love will go through.
Meanwhile, another feminist perspective shook up the horror industry with The Love Witch in 2016. Writer-director-producer-costume designer-production artist-composer Anna Biller crafted a darkly funny, technicolor nightmare of female desire with a story about a witch named Elaine who casts spells on men to make them fall in love with her. When the men do not give her intended results and become obsessed with her, she kills them. Biller does not glorify Elaine’s actions, but rather shows what happens to women’s inner desires when they have become the products of gender roles and misogyny. From a very young age, girls’ heads are filled with tales of Prince Charmings and true love, but they are never informed of their own desires. Elaine thinks that making men happy will make her happy, but with every kill she proves that is not the case. She wants something more for herself, but the impact of society’s gender roles have warped her mind so bad that she does not know how to balance making a man happy and making herself fulfilled. It’s commentary on the amount women will give up to make a man happy because they think it will give them a sense of fulfillment, similar to the themes shown in The Lure. But, The Love Witch creates a larger emphasis on the deep psychological impacts gender roles can have on women; ones that can lead women to feel crazy, desperate, and delusional just like Elaine.
These films not only show the importance of the female perspective in horror, but the diversity and creativity women can bring to the genre. Each of these three films has a completely different visual style and feel, and each does something that has never been seen before in cinema. Luckily, people have been recognizing Amirpour, Smoczynska, and Biller’s works, with all three films receiving widespread critical acclaim. Unfortunately, female perspectives have not always been welcomed into the horror genre, and there’s no better example than Jennifer’s Body. Karyn Kusama’s 2009 teen horror flick had all the makings to be a global success – two gorgeous leading ladies within Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried, a screenplay by Academy Award winner Diablo Cody, and a campy horror atmosphere. But, the film was panned by critics and audiences alike. The film, which had been marketed as a sexy fun time for teenage boys, had a uniquely female voice which had yet to be truly heard in mainstream horror cinema before. The story follows Megan Fox’s Jennifer Check, who uses her sexuality to lure boys in and eat them alive. Teenage boys were expecting to come into the theater and drool over Megan Fox, but Kusama was able to flip their expectations on their head as they watched a film about a woman using the world’s sexualization of her to keep herself alive. It’s ironic that Jennifer’s Body was advertised in a way to pander to teenage boys’ sexuality, considering that is exactly what Jennifer did in the film. People pushed it away because it was not what they were expecting – they weren’t expecting to hear a female voice.
A decade later, and now Jennifer’s Body has become a cult classic among feminist film goers and horror fans alike. The world wasn’t ready for female perspectives in horror then, but clearly people are ready for them now. Women see the world through a different lens, and their experiences and worldviews can create some of the most insightful – and terrifying – horror stories ever put on film. For this new wave of horror to succeed, we need just as many women crafting stories to get truly unique and original viewpoints in a genre that has been male-dominated for so long.