40 Must-See Horror Films Directed by Women

Genre filmmaking has a reputation as a man’s field. That goes for audiences as well as filmmakers. To the novice, it’s easy to see why. For a long time women’s bodies have been used to titillate male adolescent horror fans — shrieking, squirming, disposable ciphers. Academic studies of gender and horror cinema such as Carol J. Clover’s 1992 book Men, Women, and Chain Saws and female-fronted films changed the landscape of the genre, proving women could terrify audiences just like men, and that women were watching — but also craving stories they could relate to. The popularity of horror heroines like Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien proves the need for women who aren’t simply victims. But there’s room for all types of narratives and characters for, about, and by women — including the Freddies, Jasons, and Michael Myers of the world. There are 40 horror films directed by women that feature a range of tropes and ideas. In our current cinematic climate, where only five percent of studio releases have a woman behind the camera, we hope you’ll support more women making movies that scare the hell out of you.
In My Skin
New French Extremity director Marina de Van explores the alienation we — and particularly women — often feel regarding our bodies in this dark, body horror-driven tale of self-destruction.

The Slumber Party Massacre
Amy Holden Jones turned down a job editing Spielberg’s E.T. so she could direct 1982’s The Slumber Party Massacre, written by feminist writer and activist Rita Mae Brown. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and revels in a parodic account of the slasher genre, where the guys make all the dumb decisions and the murderer gets chased by a bunch of high school girls. Also, hooray for scenes featuring young women (here, all-star athletes) talking and acting like actual teenagers.
Slumber Party Massacre II
Slumber Party Massacre II
Roger Corman — King of the Bs and mega producer who helped kick-start the careers of many now-famous directors (including Martin Scorsese and James Cameron) — was one of the rare producers in the early days of genre filmmaker offering directing gigs to women (in this case, Deborah Brock). While not nearly as clever as the first entry in theSlumber Party Massacre series, there’s something to be said for the film’s ridiculous villain who wields an electric guitar drill.
American Psycho
American Psycho
Mary Harron adapted Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho (previously considered unfilmable), showcasing the chameleonic talent of Christian Bale — here as a psychopathic investment banker who spends the 1980s at absurdly trendy restaurants, comparing business cards with his colleagues (when he’s not killing them), and
 terrorizing women. Harron’s satiric twist and sharp visual style created the perfect environment for the slick serial killer.
Trouble Every Day
Claire Denis treats us to a cannibal love story (Vincent Gallo and Béatrice Dalle) where hunger for flesh and human longing are one.
Boxing Helena
Jennifer Chambers Lynch, daughter of David Lynch, has established a fascinating career of her own. Other entries in her filmography might speak more to outright horror, but there’s something endlessly weird and wonderful about her debut feature, the story of a surgeon who holds a woman captive by amputating her limbs. Blending quiet horror, fantasy, and erotic drama (one might even say dramedy), Lynch created the strangest fairy tale of the ‘90s.
Messiah of Evil
American Graffiti screenwriters Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz directed this Lovecraftian oddity about a zombified cult that takes over a seaside town. Messiah of Evil has a disquieting, Euro-horror feel — part of its surreality stemming from investors taking over the project once the budget ran out. Luckily, it works.
American Mary
Canadian twin filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska created an antiheroine in Katharine Isabelle’s (Ginger Snaps) titular character without forcing audiences to give respect or approval — all too rare in female characters. There are a lot of gray areas in the Soskas’ story about a disenchanted medical student whose career takes a dark turn when she enters the world of underground surgery and extreme body modification.
Jennifer’s Body
A bloody portrait of female rivalry and friendship, director Karyn Kusama brought Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody’s vision of high school hell to the big screen.
Emily Hagins directed the 2006 zombie horror flick Pathogen when she was only 12 years old. Her films tend to draw on personal stories, which means these are real teen characters and not the invention of a middle-aged man.
Neo-giallo Amer, from directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, is a tribute to the Italian thrillers from the ‘60s and ‘70s, featuring stylish murder set pieces, lots of female flesh, and cringe-worthy violence.Amer is a trilogy tale told from the female perspective, sharing observations about female sexuality and anxiety — not unlike Polanski’s Repulsion.
A group of soldiers at a remote military outpost in the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the 1800s meet a mysterious stranger who shares a horrifying tale of cannibalism. Antonia Bird’s darkly comedic Ravenousdraws parallels between the consumption of flesh and our material culture of excess.
Kei Fujiwara starred in the gear-grinding, transgressive Japanese cult film Tetsuo: The Iron Man. She went heavy on the gore in her second directorial effort, Organ — which also explores the limits and horror of the human body.
The Captured Bird
Former Rue Morgue magazine editor Jovanka Vuckovic is having an exciting year. She’ll be working on her feature debut with legendary horror author Clive Barker — an adaptation of his short story “Jacqueline Ess” — originally part of Barker’s Books of BloodGame of Thrones actress Lena Heady will star in the movie. Vuckovic will also direct an entry in an upcoming all-female horror anthology, XX (along with Karyn Kusama, Mary Harron, and Jennifer Lynch). Her short filmThe Captured Bird was produced by Guillermo del Toro and centers on a little girl whose chalk drawings lead to the discovery of ferrying supernatural creatures.
Blood Diner
A semi-sequel to Herschell Gordon Lewis’ blood-soaked classic Blood Feast, Jackie Kong’s Blood Diner is another gastronomic gore show.
Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary
Stephen King adaptations tend to be unpredictable, but music video director Mary Lambert (Madonna, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Annie Lennox) added some genuinely creepy and atmospheric touches to 1989’s Pet Sematary. Come for the creepy cat, stay for the Ramones song.

Blood Bath
Stephanie Rothman, known for directing feminist-minded exploitation films like The Student Nurses, and prolific exploitation filmmaker Jack Hill both contributed to 1966’s Blood Bath — about a lunatic artist who believes he’s a vampire and boils the bodies of women in a large vat. Due to all the confused reshoots, Blood Bath sometimes feels like watching three movies at once — but its atmospheric qualities linger in the mind.

Mirror Mirror
High school goths! Demonic mirrors! Rainbow Harvest! Karen Black! Yvonne De Carlo! If this doesn’t compel you to see Marina Sargenti’s 1990 film Mirror Mirror, there is no hope.
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
I hope some Joe Schmo movie producer or recycle-happy studio supporting Saw XCIX or the same male directors making the same supernatural sequels will one day wake up and remember that a woman, Rachel Talalay, directed a successful entry in a long-running horror series. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare was supposed to be the last film in the series, but a strong box office performance kept the franchise alive. It’s by no means a perfect film, but it does feature an ass-kicking protagonist (like many of the Freddy films).
Blood & Donuts
Vampires, donuts, and David Cronenberg as a crime boss. Just do it.
Kiss of the Damned
Xan Cassavetes’ sexy, moody vampire tale Kiss of the Damned evokes the erotic undead films from the ’70s. It’s a refreshing take on the vampire genre that explores relationships and responsibility.
The Rage: Carrie 2
I’m always a little surprised that more women haven’t directed a Carriefilm. Brian De Palma’s 1976 movie has some great subversive qualities, like the book, and isn’t afraid to shatter male fantasies — spinning off of Stephen King’s original story. As our own Tom Hawking wrote, “it’s not so much sex that’s the issue here — it’s puberty, and in particular female puberty, with the book’s constant emphasis on blood an ever-present reminder.” I won’t tell you that The Rage: Carrie 2 (sometimes referred to as “emo Carrie”) is a great movie, but if you’re curious where the series has wandered…
Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce offered this entry in the Carriecanon, starring Chloë Grace Moretz. “It’s a strange thing to say about a movie so obsessed with the red stuff, but this Carrie is bloodless,”writes A.A. Dowd.

A ghostly, gothic mystery from actress Axelle Carolyn about a widow who retreats to an isolated Welsh cabin following a suicide attempt and the tragic death of her husband. Critic Scott Weinberg writes: “What’s most interesting about Soulmate is that its writer/director is a serious fan of hack’em up slash-fests that are knee-deep in carnage and/or crazy monsters — yet her first film is most assuredly a ‘supernatural drama’ in every sense of the phrase.”
Silent House
The most talked-about aspect of Laura Lau’s Silent House was that it was presented as a single-take movie (but actually filmed in 12-minute takes and edited so as to appear seamless). If there’s one other reason to see the 2011 film, it’s for star Elizabeth Olsen, whose impressive turn in Martha Marcy May Marlene left audiences wanting more.
The Countess
Oh hi, Julie Delpy directed and stars in a movie about Countess Báthory, who murdered young girls — reportedly to bathe in their virgin blood to retain her youth. It’s not a straight horror film, as the actress-director explains: “It sounds like a gothic [story] but it’s more a drama. It’s more focusing on the psychology of human beings when they’re given power.”
A lot of women were killed at the time because the men were busy at war—that’s all they knew [how] to do over three generations of wars—and they became less and less capable [of ruling] countries. The women started taking over in small castles—not the king or anything like that. In small areas, she’d rule the castle. The switching period is the Renaissance period when men realized they were losing control and that’s when the witch hunt thing started to get rid of women, more or less. Báthory might have been a victim to show to people that women cannot be powerful because they become crazy and kill people.
The Commune
Elisabeth Fies is a Jill of all trades: actress, writer, producer, film festival founder, academic, screenwriting/filmmaking mentor, and more. Her 2009 film The Commune: A New Cult Classic was awarded Best International Picture at Bram Stoker Festival. “When Jenny Cross has to spend summer vacation with her deadbeat dad in his creepycommune, she thinks clean living and boredom will kill her. But some fates are worse than death.”
Horror fans will remember director Angela Bettis as the star in Lucky McKee’s underrated horror film May. The duo swap roles here, with McKee starring in Bettis’ debut feature, Roman. As anyone familiar with the work of both artists, there is no easy way to categorize the 2006 film about a lonely and obsessive man who yearns for a human connection. The emphasis on relationships instead of gore (though there is some of that) is what Bettis does best.

A Visit from the Incubus
Anna Biller makes movies that look like they’ve been ripped from the pages of ’60s or ’70s genre filmmaking. Her 2001 short film A Visit from the Incubus combines elements of Westerns, vaudeville, ’60s vampire films, and musicals.
Of Dolls and Murder
The subject matter might be more frightening than the film itself, but this 2012 documentary on dollhouse crime scene creator Frances Glessner Lee (the founder of Harvard’s department of legal medicine and the first program in the nation for forensic pathology) deserves mention. Bonus: the film is narrated by John Waters.
Hood of Horror
Spoofing old-school anthology horror films and hip hop culture, Stacy Title’s Hood of Horror stars Snoop Dogg as a Tales from the Crypt-style narrator. “Snoop Dogg cuts an impressive figure as our guide to the hood, but he’s not a great actor, and his entourage (a couple of ‘hos with spooky contact lenses and/or fangs) looks like runners-up in an amateur Halloween costume contest,” writes Cinefantastique. “Fortunately, the supporting cast shoulders the acting burden well, with old pros like Ernie Hudson (GHOSTBUSTERS) and Jason Alexander (SEINFELD) breathing a little life into scenes here and there.”
lip stick
Lip Stick
Indie scream queen and director Shannon Lark has been championing women in horror for quite some time. She co-founded the former Los Angeles-based Viscera Film Festival (supporting female filmmakers) with writer and filmmaker Heidi Martinuzzi. Her short film Lip Stickcenters on “a lonely woman with an overwhelming obsession of masturbation, [who] must extricate herself from what consumes her every moment.”
Visible Secret
Hong Kong New Wave figure Ann Hui made this odd little horror-comedy about the bizarre events happening amongst a group of strangers. Hui’s latest movie, The Golden Era, is China’s Oscar submission at the upcoming 87th Academy Awards. Her recent work focuses on social issues of her home country, but films like this and The Spooky Bunch are genre-savvy.
Death in Charge
Devi Snively participated in 2007’s Directing Workshop for Women (one of eight women), presented by the American Film Institute, where she created Death in Charge. “In the tradition of E.C. Horror Comics, this cautionary tale examines life through the eyes of Death who gets derailed when an impatient single Mom carelessly mistakes the scythe-carrying cloaked one for her tardy babysitter and leaves Death to care for her precocious 9-year-old daughter.”
The Babadook
The Babadook
Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook was a hit at Austin’s Fantastic Fest this year, sweeping the Best Actor/Actress/Picture/Screenplay award categories. “The Babadook is a child’s tale brought to life by a lethal combination of fear and grief, and as Amelia’s already tenuous affection for her son threatens to sever completely it adds a moving, psychologically devastating layer of terror to potential supernatural threat,” writes Film School Rejects’ Rob Hunter. “It’s a simple tale, wonderfully told, and pretty much guaranteed to send chills coursing through your body.”
The Party Is Over
Venezuelan-born filmmaker Gigi Romero shot her 2011 short film Se acabó la fiesta (The Party is Over) for an Internet film festival (she was a finalist). It’s a tense, original slice of horror that doesn’t take the obvious route in a story about a man who wakes up with a mysterious woman in his bed.
This is the Kickstarter-funded project of 13-year-old horror fan Emily DiPrimio. It’s a throwback to the slasher films of the 1980s that uses only practical effects. This girl knows what she’s doing.
Hide and Seek
Kayoko Asakura’s chilling 2013 short Hide and Seek (a festival favorite) finds a young girl and Koto [traditional Japanese stringed musical instrument] teacher having a very bizarre lesson. Learn more about her debut feature film It’s a Beautiful Day in this interview. “I thought I would like to make a slasher horror film, which had a main female character being a serious killer,” she says. “I wanted her to be an unusual female character. I mean she is not very feminine. So from this standpoint I had the idea for the story of this film.”
Among Friends
Danielle Harris is best known to the horror community as a scream queen and star of the Halloween series. She made her directorial debut with the horror-comedy Among Friends in 2013 (she also stars in the film). It has an ‘80s bent to it, in the vein of April Fool’s Day or Happy Birthday to Me.
The Mafu Cage
The Mafu Cage
“One of the most compelling and uniquely dark films of the psychotic woman subgenre, Karen Arthur’s adaptation of Eric Westphal’s playYou and Your Clouds stars Lee Grant as Ellen, an astronomer who lives with her feral sister Cissy,” author Kier-la Janisse writes. Arthur was “the first woman to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series (for an episode of Cagney & Lacey).”
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Another refreshing, evocative take on the undead genre from Ana Lily Amirpour, whose “auspicious debut feature is a sly, slinky vampire romance set in an imaginary Iranian underworld.


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