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Horror Show: Women Horror Directors to Watch

Have you ever wanted the power to be invisible? It's easy—try being a woman and launching a career in the horror industry. Voila!

It's sad but true—if you're a woman, the odds of you making it in the horror biz are bleak. Other than being a Vh1 "scream queen" or one of the "bloody babes of the month" in a lad mag, women are completely completely overlooked as horror writers, directors, producers, F/X artists, and even, in many cases, as fans.

The slogan "Discovering the New Blood of Horror and Honoring the Masters" belongs to SCREAMFEST, a career-launching horror-film festival founded in 2001. The festival recently announced its 2010 slate of 18 films—not one of which was written or directed by a woman. Google 'female horror directors' and you'll find headlines like "Do women and horror films mix?" and message boards full of fanboys proclaiming there are no women making horror, and if they did the results probably wouldn't be very scary. But what about American Psycho (directed by Mary Harron)? What about Pet Cemetery (Mary Lambert)? What about The Slumber Party Massacre (Amy Jones)?

The conventional wisdom is that women don't want to be scared—or enjoy scary movies only insofar as the terror gives them the opportunity to snuggle up to male companions, as Entertainment Weekly pointed out in a 2009 piece. This strikes me as bizarre. Women bleed, after all, regularly and sometimes very heavily. We push human beings out of our bodies. We deal with constant threats to our safety. So it only makes sense that women can portray fear, terror, and gore onscreen in ways only those who've experiences it up close and personal can.

But I can't blame the general public for the assumption that women just don't make horror films. How would anyone really know, when the films that do exist are routinely ignored and diminished? This disturbing and irresponsible invisibility is why I founded Women in Horror Recognition Month in February 2010—a tradition that will hopefully continue until we are respected, visible, and included as both creators and fans. And right now, I'd like to introduce you to five women among the many who are working hard to be seen and heard in this scarily sexist genre.

JEN AND SYLVIA SOSKA

The most recent issue of my feminist horror zine, Ax Wound, features an interview with horror bigwig Eli Roth. Since he's a man near the top of the horror-industry food chain, I figured he might have some insight into female horror filmmakers working under the radar. And he delivered: "You should check out the Soska sisters, who made a film called Dead Hooker in a Trunk. It's really violent and the stunts are superb. They are Canadian twin sisters who made a feature that they wrote, produced, directed, and starred in and it's fantastic!" And let me tell you, Roth was right.

As little girls, Jen & Sylvia started acting and modeling, but as they got older they realized that identical female twins have limited options when it comes to film roles. As Sylvia puts it, "The roles got more and more repetitive—hot twin bikini girls, hot twin sorority girls, hot twin aliens…" With a desire to have more options, the multitalented sisters decided to venture into stunt work. And as they learned how to kick ass, they also jumped into launching Twisted Twins Productions and writing, producing, directing, and starring in their first feature.

The 2009 film follows twin sisters Badass and Geek, along with their friends Junkie and Goody Two-Shoes. As you might guess, Badass and Junkie have different interests than Geek and her Bible-thumping love interest Goody Two-Shoes. But it's not long before all four of them have one major thing in common: There's a dead hooker in their trunk, and nobody knows how she got there. With skilled actors, amazing F/X work, and love for the genre written all over it, DHIAT has screened in the US, UK, and Canada, racking up festival awards. Join their to bring their Dead Hooker to a theater near you.

ELISABETH FIES

Elisabeth Fies didn't start out a horror fanatic. As a little girl, her nightmares were so horrific she felt horror movies were probably best avoided. It wasn't until she was in her twenties and struggling with depression that Fies found solace in the genre—and grew into an intense storyteller with the ability to simultaneously make you cringe and be awe-inspired.

Her debut feature, 2009's The Commune, is a true piece of feminist art that's been an Official Selection at over a dozen film festivals. The story follows a teenage girl whose father gains custody of her and relocates to a creepy commune with sinister plans. The exploration of female sexuality, sexual abuse, groupthink, and family entangle in a narrative of horror and tragedy best summed up by the film's tagline: "Every Girl's Worst Fear."

Aside from working hard to get her own work seen by a larger audience, Fies is driven to support and promote the work of other women in the industry. In 2010, she founded L.A.'s BLEEDFEST in order to showcases horror features written and directed by women. (One of the three inaugural selections was the Soska twins' Dead Hooker In a Trunk.) Add The Commune to your Netflix queue now, and bookmark Fies's blog—all this month, she'll be featuring female-made horror films.

AMY LYNN BEST

In 2004 Amy Lynn Best helped launch Pretty/Scary, the first online hub for female horror fans. (It's now run by co-founder Heidi Martinuzzi under the name Fangirltastic.) With no formal film training, Best learned by observing, asking questions, and engaging with technical skills like grip work and line producing on short low budget films.

With a dedication to supporting and furthering the goals of indie filmmakers like herself, Best co-founded Happy Cloud Pictures with her friend Bill Homan, along with her husband, horror writer/director Mike Watt. And in 2003, she made her directorial debut with the sorority-house slasher Severe Injuries.

Between working in front and behind the camera, Best has more than a dozen films under her belt. Recently, I watched Splatter Movie: The Directors Cut (2008), which Best directed and coproduced. The film follows a group of filmmakers shooting their latest horror movie. Unfortunately, a member of the crew is picking them off one by one. The film is a great commentary on women's roles in horror, but the ending—I won't spoil it—is one that only a person fed up with the true invisibility of women in the industry could have concocted. Aside from co-producing and directing, Best also stars in the film, as director Amy Lee Parker. Even spoofing herself, Best's portrayal of a film set run by a strong woman is inspiring to female would-be horror directors.
Visit Amy's website and check out more of her work, including Were-Grrl and Spicy Sister Slumber Party, a documentary featuring B-movie actresses discussing their work.

TIFFANY D. JACKSON

At age five, Tiffany Jackson was more likely to be watching Friday the 13th at her grandmother's house than playing with toys and puzzles. Viewing slasher films at such a young age inspired Jackson's vivid imagination, and by age 14 she was writing her first horror script. She made her first film at 17. For her senior thesis at Howard University, Jackson pulled together all her friends, as well as her baby brother for "a babysitter slasher movie" that she made using her dad's camera and the school's dated video-editing equipment.

Most recently Jackson wrote and directed The Field Trip, a Blair Witch–like chiller in which six Harlem high-school classmates are sent, by way of punishment for delinquency, to a haunted trail. The film recently screened at the Martha'a Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF).

If it's hard to get recognition as a female horror filmmaker, as an African American female horror filmmaker, the obstacles are multilayered. Says Jackson, "Looking back, my most serious projects were all horror/suspense films. It's just the genre I always felt I belonged to. Being a black filmmaker, you get a lot of pressure to make "poignant" films. But that's never been my passion. [Horror] is not an easy genre to belong to. But if I'm weird, I'll be [weird and] proud."

Currently, Jackson is in postproduction on a web series called So I Married A Vampire, which she describes on her website as "The Office meets True Blood." When asked in the Sept 2010 issue of XI Magazine to give advice to other young women wanting to make films, she responded: "Just pick up a camera and start shooting. Don't worry about the particulars. If you have an idea, find the camera, find the people who are just like you, and just do it."

The Field Trip from Tiffany D. Jackson on Vimeo.

Hannah Neurotica is the woman behind Az Wound Zine and Ax Wound Radio Show. To find out more about her work in feminism and horror, visit her website.

Remember, Bitch readers: Since this is part of the Horror Show series, whoever leaves the best comment gets a shiny copy of The Exorcist on DVD! Be sure to register before you comment so you can claim your prize—if you dare!

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Comments

16 comments have been made. Post a comment.

And There's More!

Also watch for the hilarious, award-winning "directrix" Devi Snively...

http://www.deviantpictures.com/trippinmovie/

...and the fiery Jovanka Vuckovic, former editor of Rue Morgue Magazine, whose first film, "The Captured Bird," is being executive produced by none other that Guillermo del Toro:

http://www.thecapturedbird.com/film/

Devi Snively

I caught a couple of her shorts at Viscera Film Fest in July! Fun stuff!

I'll have to check these out.

I'll have to check these out. I've been a huge horror fan for many years. I love going to Horrorhound conventions and the like, sometimes for the guests but mainly for the vendors! My husband doesn't share my love of the horror genre and can't figure out why I like to be scared. Honestly, I'd love to be able to create and make my own horror films, shorts or whatever. It's just finding the time and something compelling to tell.

Amazing!

This is pretty awesome. I want to check out all of these! It is always nice to see strong women in horror films, especially when they are running out the door instead of up the stairs.

A great resource!

Great job on the article, Hannah! It's just one more resource in the tragically narrow, albeit growing, library of resources that let the world know about female filmmakers.

This might sound like I'm hijacking this comments thread for self-promtion, but I am really just trying to give people a chance to see the work of these women:

Two of the films mentioned in this article are screening at my horror film festival in San Diego on November 6th: The Soska Sisters' Dead Hooker in a Trunk and Elisabeth Fies's The Commune. If you live in Southern California and want to see these films for yourself, on the big screen, then come on down to San Diego!

The official website: http://www.horribleimaginingsfilmfest.com

Again, I'm not trying to solicit for myself! The big screen is the way to see these pictures and support these filmmakers!

Miguel

conventional wisdom

"The conventional wisdom is that women don’t want to be scared—or enjoy scary movies only insofar as the terror gives them the opportunity to snuggle up to male companions." This is the regular anti-women power worn out record playing again and again. The truth is, this genre is equally loved or hated.

Thank you!

It feels wonderful to be talked about by BITCHes! :) Thank you so much for giving some positive ink to the lowest of the low in the most ghettoized film genre...

We love what we do, and we just want people to know we and our work exist! The myth of "there are no female horror directors" is constantly perpetuated by the horror gatekeepers (production companies, distributors, and horror magazines who have no interest in women's voices unless its their screams coming out of naked breasts). It's about time we got this discourse going in the feminist community and gave each other some support!

If you think "horror" is not for you, you'll be pleasantly shocked at the endless variety of innovative stories hundreds of horror directresses have and are telling. Don't judge it until you see it...we're not copying the men. We're forging our own paths. And let's face it: women have a lot more in this world to be scared of. The work I've seen tends to be naked, disturbing, adroitly psychological fare from brave, bold visionaries. It is artistically and financially stupid that it continues to be ignored by The Powers That Be.

Exorcist winner!

Hi Elisabeth,
Thank you for your comment! For your work in the feminist horror movie genre, and for your expanding of the discussion here, we'd love to send you our prize giveaway of one copy of the Exorcist. Please email me at newmedia (at) b-word (dot) org with a mailing address for you, and we'll send you your prize right away!
Thanks again for commenting.

Helene Cattet

As half of a team with Bruno Forzani, the work Helene Cattet has done in the Belgian horror Amer is really amazing for its technical skill, breadth of horror knowledge (particularly Argento and Bava), and its depiction of a female protagonist in a way which neither reduces her to any classically negative trope without ever becoming cloyingly pointed in its critique, so as to diminish the film.

Beyond that, it was one of the most visceral experiences I've ever had with a horror film, especially when it comes to the editing, colors and soundtrack. Supposedly it will start making the rounds in art-houses at the end of the month (I've been waiting over a year to see it again) and I hope someone sees this and seeks it out, as it is really worth it.

Totally agree with Black (the

Totally agree with Black (the first comment), this article doesn't have any credibility without Jovanka or Katryn Bigelow (Near Dark), Elvira (she produce her own films), even mexican director Lorena Villarreal (Las Lloronas) etc.

Asia Argento made one very disturbing creepy film, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.

K. Bigelow won an oscar....i

K. Bigelow won an oscar....i was writing about people who are not famous like that. Jovanka is wonderful woman and i look forward to The Captured Bird. Elvira is also famous. PEople know that name. They don't know The Soska Sister, Lis Fies, etc

I think it's a bit harsh to

I think it's a bit harsh to say the article lacks credibility based on those examples. The article is about female horror directors. Argento's film is not horror, Elvira does not direct, and Bigelow directed one horror film in 1987 (and is a big name director, of which this article is not the focus). Since Jovanka's film has not been released, it seems ridiculous to expect it could be covered here in detail. The article does not claim to list every female horror director, so perhaps you can give the author a break and appreciate the filmmakers that she has brought to our attention, instead of trying to discredit a woman who is editor of a feminist horror publication, and knows a hell a lot more about the topic than most.

Agreed!

I agree with Jenny here--Hannah's point was not to write an end-all be-all list of all women horror directors ever, but rather to point us novices (I'm a novice, at least) in the direction of awesome women horror directors we may not have heard of before. Mission: Accomplished!

- Kelsey

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Screamfest

Good article. I don't know if the part about SCREAMFEST was just referring to the features, but the festival does in fact have two shorts directed by women as part of their schedule: "Not Even Death", directed by Monica Winter Vigil, and "Together", directed by Gigi Romero.

Could I just add...

That Devi Snively has made some AMAZING horror shorts with the 4 color look and feel of old school EC comics. We played her short Death in Charge at our first monthly screening event and it was easily the crowd favorite. Ms. Snively was also gracious enough to point us towards other indie horror creators, and steered a bunch towards us as we were getting our events off the ground and we owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude.

We screened Dead Hooker in a Trunk in Boston this past September and had to turn people away lest we violate fire codes. It such a fun grindhousy horror action comedy and I can't wait to see how Dog fight turns out.

One shameless plug-anyone in the Boston area Wednesday the 13th should come by the Somerville Theater at 8pm when we screen Stacie Ponder's feature Ludlow/ End plug.

Megan Sacco - Lady Haunter Inc - Productions

My small but rapidly growing company, has it's first feature in post production CUTZ. And we are in Pre-production for our next feature. I am in the Boston area and just starting to get the word out. It's rather interesting to go from being in front of the camera to writing and Directing! I was hoping to find something in the Boston area to celebrate Women in Horror. No such luck!

Thank you for your time,

Sincerely,
Megan Sacco