CELEBRATING FEMALE HORROR FILM-MAKERS
Women have always played a major role in horror films. For years they may have had very limited choices in terms of the types of characters they played (usually either the smart, virginal female – who usually survived, or someone slightly more promiscuous – who tended not to survive) Fortunately things are changing and women are no longer restricted to such stereotypes. However, what about behind the camera? Female film-makers, especially within horror, have historically been virtually non-existant up until about twenty years ago or so. There are a number of reasons for this yet I don't intend to cover them in this article – for it's really about celebrating those women who have made (or are making) the breakthrough and who represent a very real shift in the industry.
We'll start at the beginning and make our way towards present day...
We should probably start with Ida Lupino – an actress who appeared in over 100 films and TV shows who was also an extremely prolific Director too. What's more amazing is that her directing career took off during the end of the 1940's. Whilst there are still rumblings of inequality in the present day within the industry, back in the 40's and 50's the landscape was very different. The attitude towards women and their role within society was obviously very different to today and female Directors were virtually unheard of. Although she went on to direct a lot of features that could never be considered to be horror, her first works were definitely worthy of mentioning. In 1950 she directed 'Outrage' – a film about a newlywed woman whose life is shattered when she is raped on her way home from work. A rather bold and controversial theme for the time. She also directed the 1953 movie 'The Hitch Hiker' – more of a film noir than a horror and not related at all to the Rutger Hauer version, it's nevertheless a dark albeit rather predictable thriller. However, the fact remains that Lupino was one of the early trailblazers and should be remembered.
AMY HOLDEN JONES
Amy Holden Jones may be best known for writing family films such as 'Beethoven' and 'Mystic Pizza' – however, she is also worth mentioning for a couple of genre related films that she was involved with. In 1982 she wrote and directed the rather awesomely titled 'The Slumber Party Massacre'. It's 18 rated and rather gory and quite a lot of fun. Fast forward 15 years and she wrote the screenplay to 1997 monster horror 'The Relic' starring Tom Sizemore. We know it's not the greatest horror film in the world but we aren't ashamed to admit we actually quite enjoyed it!
Kathryn Bigelow may have been married to one of the worlds most successful Directors (James Cameron) for a couple of years – but she is undoubtedly a film making giant herself.
She's perhaps best know amongst modern audiences for 'Zero Dark Thirty' and 'The Hurt Locker' (both of which were excellent), however she didn't always opt for military themed projects. She is responsible for one of the best vampire films ever made. 'Near Dark' was released in 1987 and is a film that still stands the test of time and is a great piece of cinema. It was Bigelow's first solo directorial effort and producer, Edward S. Feldman told her that if she couldn't handle or didn't know what she was doing while filming after five days, she would be replaced. The rest is history.
Mary Lambert is something of a horror veteran. If you look at her filmography of the last decade or so it doesn't make particularly great reading. 'Mega Python vs Gatoroid', 'The Attic' and 'Urban Legends: Bloody Mary' being the most notable things on her CV. And that isn't a good thing. However, travel back a bit further (1989) and you will find that she directed the adaptation of Stephen King's 'Pet Semetary'. It isn't everyone's cup of tea but it definitely has its fans and is one of those horror movies that everyone should see at some point. She is currently attached to direct a horror film called 'The Executioner' which will probably get a release later this year/early next. Oh and interesting fact – she also directed the music video to Madonna's smash hit 'Like a Prayer'.
JENNIFER CHAMBERS LYNCH
Everyone knows who David Lynch is. And by now, people should really know who his daughter is too! Like several other women on this list, she is attached to direct a segment on the 'XX' anthology – but she has been making films for decades. Her first foray into film-making was with 'Boxing Helena' (1993)– an ambitious Horror/romance that starred Sherilyn Fenn. It wasn't a success however (critically or at the box office) and Lynch won 'worst Director' award in 1994.
In 2008 she made 'Surveillance', which although not a horror, was certainly a dark and twisted movie. It's got a very unique feel to it and deserves praise for trying to do something different.
There's no doubting that her 2012 movie 'Chained' was a true horror film however. It played at Frightfest a couple of years ago and was one of those that didn't garner too much attention. Which is a shame as it is a very decent horror movie. She also has her own specific views on the role of women in the genre too. “I think walking around reminding yourself that you're a woman is only going to get you in trouble. Women in film, the way they've been treated, certainly parts of it are a shame, but they took the paycheque, they played the roles, and if they don't want to do it anymore, we need to start saying no, and different roles will come up.”
Antonia Bird sadly passed away in 2013 and was predominantly a TV Director – responsible for several episodes of 'Spooks' and 'The Village'. She did direct one horror feature however – and a rather good one at that. 'Ravenous' (1999) is a stark and grim cannibal horror that is generally recognised to be a very, very good film. It also boasts a pretty impressive cast too (Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle and David Arque...actually, scrap that last one). Although it didn't make waves upon it's release, it is one of those that has gained popularity and notoriety several years afterwards. If you haven't seen it yet then I highly recommend adding it to your horror collection.
Mary Harron is a well known name amongst horror fans and that is mainly for one movie. 'American Psycho'. It would do her a disservice to say it is the only decent thing she has made (as it isn't true!) but there is no denying that American Psycho is the movie that people always think of when her name is mentioned. And that's because to adapt Easton Ellis' controversial and highly popular book and turn it into such an accomplished film, is no easy task. It may have caused some controversy at the time for it's scenes of violence against women but the fact is that the material is in the book and to cut it would have been disloyal to the books it was based on. Bale may be excellent as the anti-hero but a lot of the kudos has to be given to Harron for creating a darkly black horror comedy that has developed something of a cult following.
Denis, a French writer and Director is mainly known in France for her drama's – including films such as 'Beau Travail' (1999) and 'White Material' (2009) but horror fans will be more familiar with her rather shocking and controversial horror 'Trouble Every Day' (2001). Starring Vincent Giallo and Beatrice Dalle, it's a gratuitous and explicit film that is well worth watching. If you don't mind a bit of gore that is...
Laura Lau is one half of the creative duo behind 'Open Water' (2003) and the remake of 'Silent House (2012)'. Although not as prolific as some film-makers out there, the two aforementioned features were projects she should be proud of. Whilst the 'Silent House' remake wasn't a groundbreaking movie – and it was also a remake – Lau and her Directing/writing partner Chris Kentis did a sound job on the creative side of things. It's a very watchable and well made movie. 'Open Water' on the other hand is one of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences I have ever had in the cinema. 'Jaws' obviously has to take a fair portion of the blame for making me so scared of the ocean in the first place but 'Open Water' exploited those deep rooted fears that I (and a lot of other people) have masterfully well. It doesn't appear that she has any movies currently in the pipeline, which is a bit of a shame if you ask us.
Helene Cattet is a French writer/Director who has developed quite a reputation over the last five or six years. Since 2001 she has made a number of short horror films but it wasn't until 2009 that she made her breakthrough with 'Amer', which she co-directed with her creative partner Bruno Forzani.
Very much in the style of Argento and Bava, we must admit that the film wasn't really our cup of tea – but what do we know hey? The point is that it DID receive a lot of plaudits for it's unconventional style and artistic direction. Since then Cattet has directed a segment of 2012's horror anthology 'The ABC's of Death' and the visually dazzling 'The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears' in 2013. There is no denying that her work is highly stylized and not to everyone's tastes but it's obvious that she is a talented auteur – and it's always great to have those within the genre.
The wife of horror master Neil Marshall (The Descent, Dog Soldiers) Axelle Carolyn is a woman who is obviously very determined to forge her own career in the genre too. A former actor and journalist, she also wrote a rather impressive book called 'It Lives Again! Horror Movies in the New Millennium' – which is well worth a read. She has also recently turned her hand to film-making and in 2011 she wrote and directed a couple of shorts that premiered at the Fantasia and FearNet. In 2013 however, her first feature film was released. Although slightly uneven, 'Soulmate' is a film that clearly shows she has some talent as a Director – and as a debut film is a commendable achievement. Unfortunately, the film encountered some problems with the BBFC who decided to cut the opening scene as it depicted a graphic suicide. Something which Carolyn was not too happy with.
This Canadian film-maker does it all. She acts, produces, writes and directs. And she's also extremely good at engaging her audience and has built quite a following over the last few years. She is probably best known for her acting roles in a whole host of genre films – yet is her film-making abilities that have got her a lot of attention of late. Last year, 'Truth or Dare' was released onto unsuspecting audience members at Frightfest and it blew people away. We voted it one of the films of the festival and it showcases her genuine talent for making gory, blood soaked thrill rides. Her latest film 'Mania' is currently in production and should hit our screens later this year if all goes well. We can't wait.
THE SOSKA SISTERS
Jen and Sylvia Soska are identical twin sisters. Fact. What's also a fact is that they are making pretty big waves within the genre right now. (The twins are horror obsessed and weapons trained, which is a rather deadly combination.) They first grabbed the attention of fans with their ultra low budget shocker 'Dead Hooker in a Trunk' back in 2009 and they haven't looked back since. They also directed a segment of 'The ABC's of Death' in 2014 (entitled 'T is for torture porn'!) and also in the same year revived the 'See No Evil' concept and made a sequel that was better than the film before it. However, their most impressive work to date is 'American Mary (2012) starring Katherine Isabelle. It's an intelligent and carefully made film that is both shocking and thought provoking.
They are also big advocates of Women in Horror Month and are outspoken regarding their views on equal rights within the genre. Here's a quote from Jen if you don't believe us...
"We simply want to make good films. It shouldn't matter whether we are male or female. A woman's work shouldn't be graded more generously than that of a man.”
Until last year, not too many people had heard of Jennifer Kent. She was a TV actress in Australia who was essentially unknown outside her home country. Of course, that all changed when her debut feature 'The Babadook' was released. Originally made as a short in 2005, Kent adapted it into a full length horror – and a good job that she did. We listed it as one of the best horror films of 2014 and we weren't alone. 'The Babadook' is a creepy and atmospheric 90 minutes that is intelligently written and skilfully directed. It's a shame that Kent doesn't appear too enamoured with the idea of making more genre films – as we'd dearly love to see more movies of the quality of 'The Babadook' being made. Interesting fact – Lars Von Trier allowed her to help out on the set of 'Dogville'.
ANA LILY AMIRPOUR
Not only does she have a rather exotic and awesome sounding name, Ana Lily Amirpour is the woman behind the intriguingly titled 'A Girl Walks Home at Night' – which is an (in her own words) “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western'. If that sentence doesn't pique your interest then the fact that it has received rave critical reviews should do the trick. Truth be told it isn't an out and out horror film, but there are more than enough genre elements for it to be considered relevant. The fact that is is Amirpour's first feature film makes it all even more impressive. Amirpour definitely has an affinity for horror though – claiming that the first film she ever made was when she was just 12yrs old...and it was a horror movie. She was actually born in the UK before moving to Miami when she was just a kid (this means we can claim her as a Brit, right? RIGHT?!) She's still very very young so hopefully we will have the privilege of watching more of her work very soon. In fact, her next feature has already been confirmed. It's called 'The Bad Batch' and it's being billed as a 'post-apocalyptic cannibal love story set in a Texas Wasteland'. She certainly likes pushing the boundaries that's for sure!
Leigh Janiak may have only made one feature film so far in her short career as a film-maker (hey, cut her some slack, she's young!) but what a film it is. 'Honeymoon' (2014) is a sci-fi/horror blend that is a real slow burn of a movie. More chilling than scary, but sometimes those films stay with you for longer. As is the case here. Fortunately, Janiak is ultra keen to get back on the horse and make more films as soon as she can – let's just hope that they happen to be horror films eh?
Vuckovic may have once appeared as a zombie is Zak Snyder's 'Dawn of the Dead' but she obviously has more ambition that just played a lifeless corpse!
Originally a VFX artist, she moved on to become Editor of Rue Morgue Magazine – a really impressive Canadian Horror Magazine. Since then she has made a couple of critically acclaimed horror shorts (The Captured Bird and The Guest) and has signed up to direct a segment of the upcoming all female horror anthology 'XX'. She is also a keen promotor of womens rights within the genre and this quote of hers sums up the issues that a lot of female film-makers still believe exists within the genre.
“When it comes to horror, women are more often seen than they are heard. In other words, people are more familiar with scream queens than they are the contributions of women behind the scenes.”
Kathleen Behun is the Director of '21 Days' – a film that won the 'Best Supernatural Feature' award at last months Philip K. Dick festival. We've been lucky enough to catch a screening of the movie ourselves and can vouch for the fact that the award is deserved. Behun is a big fan of horror so there's every chance she'll stick around and produce more genre pics. Hopefully '21 Days' will prove to be her calling card.
One of the youngest member on the list, 24 year old Thorvaldsen is a Norwegian Director who made a horror feature as part of her university course. That film is 'Myling: The Myth Awakens' – based on a Norwegian myth about children who are abandoned in the woods by their parents. It has made headlines both in Norway and hopefully the rest of us will get to see it on the festival circuit this year.
A lot of film makers know what they want to do from a very early age. Few get the chance to actually make a feature film at the age of 14 however. Emily DiPrimio is one of those people.
DiPrimio used crowdfunding website Kickstarter to help raise over £20,000 to make her dream a reality. The film in question is an 80's slasher style movie called 'Carver'. A trailer is available to see here although a release date has not been announced as yet – although expect to see it at some point later this year.