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10 Female Masters of Horror

Herner Klenthur 22 Comments

We recently sparked an unintended debate  on female horror directors when we shared a list of 10 New Masters of Horror and not one of them was a woman. The list was generated from reader feedback as well as our own reflections on the genre and has in the process opened up my eyes to how some people see our genre and the sexism that apparently limits the opportunities of women as directors.

It would appear that when it comes to women, the horror genre is not giving them a very fair shake behind the camera. Some accused me of being narrow-minded or simply uneducated on good horror. But the truth is that there really are no new masters of horror that are female, not because of a lack of talent but a lack of opportunities.

I was not even aware of the issue and have never judged a film by its director or tried to advance any cause, male or female, so the backlash gave me a chance to do some reading and see just how the other sex sees our genre when it comes to the director’s chair.

I asked our readers to list 10 New Female masters of horror and they had a hard time coming up with a consensus and many responded with ‘are there any?’  The best most could come up with was the Soska Twins who have hit the scene hard with American Mary and Dead Hooker in Trunk. This is pretty telling! Jennifer

Ashlee who runs the blog Quirks & Splatters really put a spotlight on the issue of women in horror and the outrage directed at me specifically for doing a list that did not include a single woman. She writes, quote:

…. we shouldn’t blame or ridicule Herner Klenthur or his list; we need to direct our energy towards the systemic, institutionalized exclusion of female genre filmmakers in the spaces that would propel their work, talent, effort, and skill into the stratosphere of a Ti West or an Eli Roth, two directors whose work I do enjoy.

I spent a good year immersed in this very question to come to some understanding as to how women horror directors are creating their own avenues and marketing platforms to make the smaller and larger entertainment industry take notice. My Masters Thesis took the form of demonstrating the re-conceptualization of horror by women directors and what it will mean for the industry in the future. With spaces like Viscera relentlessly pushing the mission of exposure for the quality work of female genre directors, things can only go up.

Are women in horror really not getting the same shots as the men are? BJ, another excellent writer, put a spotlight on the issue on her blog Day of the Woman where she writes in response to my New Masters of Horror list:

….his list is to focus on the “10 New Masters of Horror” and there has not been a woman in recent memory that deserves a place on this list.  Are there women directing outstanding horror films? Absolutely.  Are there women who have made an impact as large or as influential as the men on this list? No. Going back to the rules of feminism, it’s about equality of the genders.  Equality also means being held to the same standard.

I think those two say it much better then I ever could and both are more qualified to speak about women and their place in horror films. I strongly encourage you to go read the entire articles at Day of the Woman and Quirks And Splatter.

Day Of The Woman’s article is a VERY good read on the topic and has quite a bit of responses from various women in the industry. Granted almost all of them are attacking me but that doesnt change the fact you should read what BJ has to say if only to read what the founder of Women In Horror and others have to say about our list.  [ click here ]

The whole experience has been eye opening to me. An innocent article that made me the ridicule of various women hopefully will help drive a bigger conversation on why are there not more women in horror behind the camera directing films? There are plenty of them in front of it every year!

Although our readers  had trouble pin pointing a good list of  new female masters of horror we followed up with the question of who are your favorite female horror directors which resulted in some excellent answers.  Although males do still dominate the director’s seat when it comes to horror movies, to say that there are no notable female horror directors is not only wrong, it’s just outrageous.

I think, given the debate, it’s time we did a Top 10 female horror directors list. So without further ado here is my 10 Female Masters of Horror list featuring women who have contributed as much to the genre as anyone else, regardless of sex. These women hold their own against all comers with films that left a mark on our genre.

Mary Harron: American Psycho

American Psycho is one of the best horror movies of all time and for me is one of Christian Bales best performances to date. It really gets no higher up the peg of excellence then the work that Mary Harron did with American Psycho.

Recently we were talking about the exploitation of women in horror and this movie was part of that discussion making it more ironic that a woman directed it since male directors are the ones normally accused of making gruesome horror movies that victimize women. Mary Harron has directed other horror films including the Moth Diaries but American Psycho truly was her big mark on our genre so far.

10 Female Masters of Horror

Jennifer Lynch : Surveillance

Jennifer Lynch is the daughter of David Lynch so there is no question that helped launch her Hollywood career. That said you can not take away from the fact that she has left a powerful mark on our genre with the film Surveillance.

Surveillance is the story of a serial killer who is brutalizing a small town and the FBI team sent to investigate it. Much like David Fincher’s SEVEN this is not your traditional horror movie and is more a thriller but horror comes in all flavors and this movie is not only creepy its outstanding.

10 Female Masters of Horror

Kathryn Bigelow: Near Dark

I am going to piss off a few people and say that Near Dark was the Twilight of my time. Now before everyone starts throwing spears and biting at my face I did not say it was like Twilight.

Near Dark is a romance vampire story but unlike Twilight there is  no sparkling, its not low brow 13 year old girl material. Near Dark is a dark, brooding and incredibly violent movie wrapped in a love story. Oh and it was directed by Kathryn Bigelow

10 Female Masters of Horror

Mary Lambert : Pet Semetary

There have been alot of Stephen King books adapted to film but unfortunately not all of them have been winners. That said Pet Semetary is definitely one of the high points. The film was directed by Mary Lambert who also directed the Creepshow TV series.

10 Female Masters of Horror

Laura Lau, Silent House

Laura Lau co-directed The Silent House with Chris Kentis.  The Silent House got a ton of buzz with horror fans and rave reviews from critics. The film stars Elizabeth Olsen and is the story of a girl trapped inside her family’s lakeside retreat as ‘ominous’ events unfold. The Silent House made many genre fans top lists and is a worthy genre film for all fans to enjoy.

10 Female Masters of Horror

Karyn Kusama / Diablo Cody, Jennifers Body

Jennifer’s Body got alot of hate but I for one think that this is an outstanding film which shows off the talents of its director Karyn Kusama and its talented screenwriter Diablo Cody. I have kind of broken my rule a bit here but its not often you get two talented women helming a film so yes I am giving Diablo Cody billing as well as the talented director.

Jennifer’s Body stars Megan Fox as the ‘hot girl’ who through a series of unfortunate events becomes the host to a demon who likes to feed on the high school boys. Diablo Cody went on to help put together the script for the Evil Dead remake.

10 Female Masters of Horror

Antonia Bird, Ravenous

Ravenous is a truly classic film that I have watched no less then a dozen times. It features an all star cast rounded out with Guy Pearce and is the story of a group of settlers who fall victim to cannibals in the great white frontier. The film has many twists and turns and is extremely polished. The director Antonia Bird demonstrated her great talents behind the camera delivering a brutal and gritty experience with a lot of depth.

10 Female Masters of Horror

Julie Delpy, The Countess

The countesss is directed by Julie Delpy and is the story of a real life countess from 17th century Hungary who used the blood of young virgins to keep her youthful. The film is an excellent demonstration of the director Julie Delpy’s talent.

10 Female Masters of Horror

The Soska Twins Dead Hooker in a Trunk / American Mary

The Soska twins, Jen and Sylvia, have contributed two great films in the form of Dead Hooker in a Trunk and American Mary and both have become instant cult classics with die hard genre fans. The ‘Twins get almost as much press about them as they do for their films and have built a huge following of fans. Both American Mary and Dead Hooker in A trunk have made scores of Top 10 lists.

10 Female Masters of Horror

Amy Holden Jones: Slumber Party Massacre

Amy Holden Jones makes the list for her work on Slumber Party Massacre which she was uncredited for. The film was released in 1982 and has become a cult classic with genre fans. Amy Holden Jones not only directed the film but also wrote it. She has not directed any other noteable genre titles but she also wrote the screenplay for the outstanding 90′s monster movie The Relic starring Penelope Ann Miller.

10 Female Masters of Horror

These 10 women may not have blanketed the genre with films but that does not change the fact that they truly are masters of horror. Just as with my other list they can not name themselves to the list that is up to us fans. Our readers say that all of these women are worthy Masters of Horror.

The fact they only made one or two genre films does not lesson their contribution up against other genre masters like George Romero or Wes Craven. All of the women on this list have contributed immensely to our genre.

Who did we miss and who would you add? More importantly who should we be watching out for now? Also if you did not read my 10 New Masters of Horror article do so. I think its a good list and the comments are really eye opening and worth reading.

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22 Comments

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      1. melissa May 31, 2013 at 7:24 pm

        I am a big time horror ,thriller, and suspence as well as paranormal fan. For me its not who gets to the top quick, its the belly of the movie. Yes, men do ‘make ” gd movies, but I think us women. Can “create & bring alive ” what we consider true horror. I know I can ;-) for me if given a chance in movies I wld bring alive my darker side as well as what keeps me grounded leaving ppl wanting more .its not all about blood and guts( although who can resist a lil blood trail).. for me its about getting in ppls minds makin them ? There own lil darkside and what and how or well they wld adapt to the brinck of crossing the limits of free will or be condemed for there inner beliefs or darkest desires, or just plain twistedness and of course some bloodshed scenes. I myself like the mindgame aspect and torture part of movies..after all, WE ALL GO A LITTLE MAD SOMETIMES ;-)

      2. firedog909 May 31, 2013 at 11:20 pm

        One hit wonders maybe. Masters is a stretch.

        • Herner Klenthur
          Herner Klenthur May 31, 2013 at 11:22 pm

          I had a hell of a time titling this article. I went with Masters because I feel strongly that they contributed immensely and deserve the title. Thanks for the comment and reading!

      3. Tiago May 31, 2013 at 11:44 pm

        First list was great, this one is great too. And it think it shows what you’re saying in the post.
        I actually have trouble naming one great woman director, of any genre. That could compare to Kubrick, Hitchcock, Tarantino, or any of the best. IMDB’s 100 best director list has 2 women only.

        • Herner Klenthur
          Herner Klenthur May 31, 2013 at 11:46 pm

          Thanks for reading Tiago and as always for sharing a comment

      4. Dennis Francis June 1, 2013 at 10:07 am

        With the exception of American Psycho (my top 5 in horror movies), Pet Semetary, and Slumber Party Massacre; I unfortunately feel that this list is not very good. No “Masters” of Horror. Its a hard list and as always, its much appreciated that you took your time to make it. But in my opinion it feels a little rushed since the fallout a few days ago.

        I think Fran Rubel Kuzui should have been on this list for the ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ film.

        I believe it came out in 94ish? I just remember being a kid and seeing it and thinking it was great. Now at my age of 27 I still think its a great movie and one of the top Vampire movies of all time. It had action, gore, comedy, etc. Fran did an amazing job in casting. (Donald Sutherland stole the show)

        • Herner Klenthur
          Herner Klenthur June 1, 2013 at 1:00 pm

          Thanks as always for the comment Dennis. Just as a quick note I wrote this article before I wrote the new masters of horror :) I only published it after.

          I rewrote my original intro to address what I feel is the unfair backlash against me over the fact their are not modern female masters of horror getting mainstream attention.

          So yes the nastiness that came my way encourage me to hit ‘publish’ but it was already written I only did some last minute edits.

          Who else would you have added other then Fran ?

        • Ash
          Ash June 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm

          @dennis …. I worry about you mate. Buffy the vampire slayer on this list? It’s barely horror let alone masterful. Sort it out fella :P :)

        • Dennis Francis June 1, 2013 at 5:04 pm

          LoL @ASH

          Sorry but its horror/comedy. My love for THAT genre is off the charts!

          But to be fair I really needed something to replace Jennifers Body!

          I would have also added Kerry Anne Mullaney for ‘The Dead Outside’

        • Ash
          Ash June 1, 2013 at 9:09 pm

          @dennis – horror comedy that is neither funny nor horrific it may be :P but directed by a master in the field? Doesn’t matter if its a man, woman, frog?! This turd ain’t going anywhere near that list… It ain’t even fit to clean this lists shoes ;) lol

      5. kXnPunk June 1, 2013 at 2:57 pm

        Woah thanks for this article which I loved reading. Nice linkage too, sweet to see what girls have got to say, I love girls.
        And very cool list, thank you sir. :)

      6. Ash June 1, 2013 at 4:04 pm

        Interesting list Herner, I enjoyed the education. I had no idea some of these films were directed by women. American psycho, surveillance, pet cemetery, near dark and silent house in particular are very much worth their weight in gold. The latter is actually one of the scariest films of recent times. Love the way it was filmed.

        • Herner Klenthur
          Herner Klenthur June 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm

          Glad you enjoyd the list Ash. All these films are amazing and although they are directed by women I think its important that many dont know its women and dont care. Horror is about great filmmaking and male or female is not relevant.

          What i am saying is both should get equal opportunity.

        • Jenn June 1, 2013 at 10:12 pm

          I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know some of these flicks were directed by women. Most films I don’t see based on director, but I should start paying more attention. (and hit Netflix for these ladies). After all, we as fans are part of the problem.

      7. Goon June 3, 2013 at 3:32 am

        I really did not like Silent House.. Unfortunately Mary Lambert has fallen from grace as well.. But Pet Sematary is still one of my top 5 movies of all time.. Probably the scariest film I’ve ever seen. Still haunts me from time to time..

        • Ash
          Ash June 3, 2013 at 8:01 am

          The original silent house goon? Or the remake? The remake was pretty gash but the original was something special, no?

      8. no thank you June 3, 2013 at 3:33 am

        Great article, but: Julie Delpy didn’t direct Broken Flowers, Jim Jarmusch did.

      9. Chris June 20, 2013 at 9:46 pm

        Yeah, I was going to just point out that Jim Jarmusch probably wouldn’t enjoy having his director credit for Broken Flowers given to Julie Delpy.

      10. Steve Balshaw July 7, 2013 at 7:40 pm

        Clare Denis, TROUBLE EVERY DAY. Marina de Van, IN MY SKIN.

      11. idleprimate October 5, 2013 at 11:10 pm

        I would add a nod to writer and producer Debra Hill. If you’re gonna call Carpenter a MoH then she deserves the title also.

        Kudos on a mature and objective response to the all tOo typical rage that feminism is always at the ready to hurl at percieved misogyny.

        • Herner Klenthur
          Herner Klenthur October 5, 2013 at 11:12 pm

          good call on Debra Hill! Thanks for the comments

      12. FeFe February 2, 2014 at 9:51 pm

        One director who should be on this list but isn’t is PJ Woodside. She has written and directed 3 feature length indie horror/psychological thrillers with the 4th in pre-production. Check her out at Big Biting Pig Productions.