Women have created some of the most influential and important genre works of past, present, and future releases...
...They have brought to the screen some of my favorite and most personally formative stories.
To celebrate them and wrap up Women in Horror Month, I present some of the best women-directed horror available to stream, in no particular order, as they are all amazing.
Into the Dark: My Valentine
Written/directed by Maggie Levin
Streaming on Hulu
Hulu’s holiday themed anthology series is a unique platform. Now into its second season, it seems to allow for a lot more creative freedom than any other similar anthology I’ve seen, which breaks down the door for wholly original storytelling. One of the most affecting examples of the importance of Own Voices stories, Hulu’s Valentine’s Day offering of season 2 of its Into the Dark series tells the story of Valentine (Brit Baron), a woman struggling to reclaim and rebuild her identity and creative career after an abusive relationship at the hands of a man who took ownership of her work, muddied her sense of self, and turned the entire social culture against her. When he shows up at her first show in five years in an attempt to manipulate her into creating material for his newest project—a second album for her musical persona, Trezzure, now another woman made in Valentine’s image—all hell breaks loose.
A sharp, unforgiving look into the dynamics of toxic masculinity, abuse, trauma and the rocky journey to the other side of recovery, its cathartic ending felt like a step toward healing. This is easily one of the most necessary films on my list.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Directed by Stacie Passon and written by Mark Kruger (based on the novel by Shirley Jackson)
Streaming on Amazon Prime and Tubi
Speaking of facing trauma, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a masterclass look at repression. Easily one of her most haunting novels, I was worried it would be a difficult one to adapt. The dynamics in the family have to be nailed just so or it won’t work.
It tells the story of two sisters who live with their somewhat deranged uncle after the mysterious death of their family in the old rundown Blackwood mansion. The rumor mill in town churns so aggressively the younger Blackwood, Merricat, can hardly stand going to the grocery store. Armed with a cast so pitch perfect I could cry, this adaption captures the undercurrent of claustrophobic tension and fear of outside influence so well it was almost like holding my breath.
The Love Witch
Written/directed by Anna Biller
Streaming on Amazon Prime, Shudder and Vudu.
I first came across Anna Biller’s technicolor ‘60s vibe feminist witch film when it came to Shudder and was baffled that it was so modern. It feels like it came from the era it emulates. It tells the story of Elaine, a young witch on the hunt for love on her own terms. She seduces men with her potions and, in her free time, reads tarot and paints. She is kind, but sharp. Beautiful, but deadly. All she wants is a man to love her without obsessing over her, and if they fail to prove themselves then they get left behind with no remorse. She is unstoppable, feminine, and unapologetic. The color scheme alone should sell you on it, but if not, who doesn’t love feminist witches? A double feature I really want lined up: Anna Biller’s Love Witch in conversation with George Romero’s Season of the Witch.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Written/directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Streaming on Shudder
I first came across this film in college and, after one viewing, was completely hooked. Completely absorbing, nearly indescribable in its strangeness and beauty, it follows a young woman in Bad City who wanders the streets at night on her skateboard, and Arash, a young man struggling to support his drug addicted father. The Girl is a vampire who seems to style herself a vigilante protector for the weak/Bad City boogeyman. She encounters a young boy early on in the film, tells him she will be watching him and if he is not good then she will know.
Tagged as “the first Iranian vampire Western”, it is a poignant story of love, loss, and struggle in an unforgiving world. Little known fact: it has a companion graphic novel that seems mostly out of print, but that is available in a DVD set! The graphic novel gives a bit of backstory on The Girl, how she got to Bad City, and how she chooses her victims. It is no less ambiguous, but just as beautiful as Amirpour’s film.
Written/directed by Mariama Diallo
Streaming on HBO GO, HBO Now and Hulu
Technically this is a short, not a feature length movie, but it needs to be seen by everyone. A sharp 12-minute bite into cultural appropriation, zombies, and werewolf transformations, this is the funniest horror fare I’ve ever been horrified by. If you can hear the word “selfie” the same after watching, I’m going to need proof.
Tigers Are Not Afraid
Written/directed by Issa Lopez
Streaming on Shudder
Viscerally emotional and heartbreakingly beautiful, I defy you not to be a weeping pile of tears by the end of this one. With as dark and deft a hand as anything del Toro has done, Issa Lopez tells the story of a group of kids immersed in a world of violence and cruelty in the grip of the Mexican Drug War. Estrella comes home from a school day interrupted by a street shooting to discover her mother has disappeared and she doesn’t know where or why. She sets out into the streets to find out what happened. Armed with magic chalk, she navigates the streets with her friends and finds herself haunted by ghosts and monsters of a kind more real than anyone would like to admit. Not protected by any authority figure, Estrella and her friends fight for survival in an increasingly tense showdown with the crime boss who knows what happened to her mother. Told exclusively from the perspective of the children, it’s an aching examination of love, stories, and survival in seemingly insurmountable circumstances.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Directed by Lynne Ramsay, written by Lynne Ramsay and Rory Stewart Kinnear (based on the novel by Lionel Shriver)
Streaming on Hulu, Tubi and Vudu
Easily one of the most deeply unsettling novels I’ve ever read, and one of the best Ezra Miller films I’ve ever seen, We Need to Talk About Kevin chronicles the life of a teenage boy who has committed a mass murder in his high school and gone to jail from the perspective of his mother, who was never able to truly connect with him and always viewed him as a troubled kid. With a twist in both book and film that I wasn’t quite ready for, it is a deeply affecting look at disturbance, strained family dynamics, and a mother’s struggle to understand her son.
Directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Streaming on Netflix.
Perhaps one of the most unsettling cult-based movies I’ve ever seen, The Invitation tells an extreme story of the lengths one group is willing to go to escape the pain of their traumas. A man and his girlfriend are invited to a dinner party with his ex-wife and her group of friends. While there in the house he formerly shared with his ex and their son, he relives the trauma of their son’s death and its effects on their relationship. The dinner party, though, is not as peaceful an invitation as it may have seemed, and his ex begins pitching to the group the ideas she’s learned from the cult she joined (though of course she does not call it a cult). I haven’t been able to look at red house lights the same since.
Directed by Jenn Wexler, written by Jenn Wexler and Giaco Furino
Streaming on Shudder.
At once one of the least serious and goriest on this list, this slasher is the punk-est one I’ve seen. A group of teens on the run head out to the woods and stumble into a battle with the most disturbed park ranger out there. Chelsea (Chloe Levine) is the most cautious of the punk crew, but she also has a history with the Ranger—one she won’t be allowed to forget until the final showdown.
Written/directed by Coralie Fargeat
Streaming on Shudder.
I found this one through a trailer on Shudder and, while it took a while to get back around to, it proved well worth the wait. You, on the other hand, should not wait. If sun-soaked, blood-drenched, unflinching revenge films are your thing, I cannot recommend it enough.
It follows a young woman out on vacation with her boyfriend in his swanky secluded cabin who, after his friends show up unannounced, faces a much more terrifying weekend than she bargained for. Following a traumatic event, not even her boyfriend is on her side and she goes out hunting for some vengeance. A heroine with more determination to survive than almost any other I’ve seen yet, really gross gore effects, and some of the most realistic fighting dynamics I’ve encountered create one genuinely cheer-worthy recipe. This one is basically swimming in blood and had me leaping from my seat. It blurs and twists the line between hunter and hunted constantly in a beautiful way. Just maybe don’t eat before you watch it.
As you may remember from my previous Top 10 books by diverse authors from 2019 you may have missed, I couldn’t just stop at 10. I had to throw in a few more for good measure. In the same spirit, I found I couldn’t let this one pass without highlighting some of my most hotly anticipated women-directed releases coming out this year.
Promising Young Woman
Written/directed by Emerald Fennel
Releasing April 17, 2020 from Focus Features
After her best friend is assaulted in college and nothing is done about it, one woman decides to seek justice her way: by luring men to her house and taking revenge on them when they prove they aren’t as good as they say. She pretends to be so drunk she can’t see straight, and when the men get her in bed, it goes about as you’d expect, right up until it doesn’t. Featuring one of the best trailers with one of the best renditions of “Toxic” I’ve ever heard, this one didn’t come to play. But fair warning: during its run at Sundance there was some heat about how graphic it is. Only go in if you can handle it. Don’t push yourself past your own limits for a movie, ever.
Directed by Nia DaCosta, written by Nia DaCosta, Jordan Peele, and Win Rosenfeld
Releasing June 12, 2020 from Universal Pictures.
What more do I need to say? It’s a spiritual sequel to the original Candyman! Tony Todd is reprising his role! At least for a bit! And he’s not even the only original cast member to be returning! It looks as though an artist returning to the town immerses himself a little too much in the myth, and the hook gets passed…can you say his name in the mirror?
Written/directed by Rose Glass
Releasing March 27, 2020 from A24.
This is probably the one I know the least about, but it promises, in true A24 style, to be visually stunning and deeply unsettling. A tale about religion, obsession, and sacrifice, it begs the question: how far would you go to save the soul of someone you were charged to care for?
So, what are some of your favorite women-led horror films?
By Katelyn Nelson
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