February is known as Women in Horror Month, when the spotlight is put on female filmmakers working inside our favorite genre, and many horror sites run pieces about movies directed by women. And that’s great! But there’s no reason why that spotlight should be limited to only one month, particularly when there are so many brilliant and talented female filmmakers working in the genre. Why not use this October to hit up these titles on Shudder and get to know some of the most exciting female voices in horror right now?
Prevenge (2016, dir. Alice Lowe) Alice Lowe writes, directs, and stars in this darkly comic, twisted fantasy about a woman who is very, very pregnant (Lowe herself was pregnant during shooting) and goes on a killing spree when her unborn baby talks to her and tells her to take revenge for a past tragedy. The film never fully transcends its gimmick, but it’s a pretty great gimmick and manages to transform very real parenting anxieties into slasher movie tropes. After a very successful festival run, Prevenge premiered on the streaming service as a Shudder Exclusive.
Soulmate (2013, dir. Axelle Carolyn) While a number of contemporary horror directors have done a modern spin on ghosts, the debut feature from writer/director Axelle Carolyn is an old-school gothic ghost story, more The Innocents than The Innkeepers. The film, about a woman who moves to a potentially haunted cottage after a failed suicide attempt, is gorgeous and moody and atmospheric and all of those words you use to describe horror that isn't really scary but also is not trying to be. It's a lovely film borne of a very specific vision. I can't believe Axelle Carolyn hasn't yet directed another feature (though her segment in Tales of Halloween does some of this same stuff very well, but adds in the scares). Somebody greenlight her next project already.
Surveillance (2009, dir. Jennifer Lynch) Though not explicitly horror, director Jennifer Lynch’s Surveillance is a terrific little thriller that’s part Rashomon and part The Usual Suspects in which a trio of witnesses are debriefed by two FBI agents (Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond) about a traffic stop gone horribly, horribly wrong. Lynch’s direction is taught and slick and willing to go to some very dark places, but the major reason to see this one is the work of Pullman (one of the most underrated actors of the last 30 years) and especially Ormond, who reminds us that she is capable of being exciting and unpredictable when not stuck in prestige drama material. Lynch directs moments of violence and shocking gore as horrifying as anything else on this list.
Always Shine (2016, dir. Sophie Takal) Psychological horror film about two friends who are both actresses: Caitlin Fitzgerald, the more successful of the two, and Mackenzie Davis (currently seen in Blade Runner 2049, but who horror fans might know best from Freaks of Nature), the more talented one who just doesn’t have her life together yet. As the two women spend a weekend together, their jealousy, resentment, and competitiveness grows to a dangerous degree, constantly stoked on by the appearance of different men in their lives. While it doesn’t fully function as a horror movie, it’s brilliantly acted and has a lot of things to say about female friendships, misogyny, and the challenges actresses face. Though not a movie you have seek out this October, it’s well worth your time in the off-season. Available now as a Shudder Exclusive.
“The Room at the Top of the Stairs” (2009, dir. Briony Kidd) In addition to streaming a whole bunch of horror films and TV shows, I love that Shudder also has short films available as part of their streaming library. Like Axelle Carolyn's Soulmate, Briony Kidd's short film is a lovely gothic piece about a girl who rents a room and encounters the "ghost" of the young woman who occupied it before her. The horror elements are pretty minimal, but it's very gorgeous and deliberate and offers some thoughts about identity and finding our place in the world. Like with all of the shorts I’ve watched on Shudder, it makes me want to see the director—in this case Kidd—get her hands on a feature.
Dearest Sister (2016, dir. Mattie Do) The sophomore effort from Lao director Mattie Do (following 2012’s Chanthaly) is mostly horror-adjacent, though it does offer a worthwhile payoff for those willing to see it through to the end. A woman who has recently lost her sight gains possibly supernatural abilities to see the future; at the same time, her cousin has come to take care of her, but has her own dark agenda. Do puts the focus on the relationship between the two women, mostly finding horror in the way they have to navigate a hostile world and they way they can treat one another. Available now as a Shudder Exclusive.
The Velvet Vampire (1970, dir. Stephanie Rothman) One of the few women directors who was actively prolific in exploitation during the Golden Age of exploitation, Stephanie Rothman wasn’t just prolific and incredibly talented, but important as well. I'll be honest: The Velvet Vampire might be my least favorite of her movies (the others include The Working Girls, The Student Nurses, Group Marriage, and the excellent Terminal Island), but it's still worth a look for the way it blends some really beautifully done dream sequences, vampire tropes, and subversive comedy. I love the way that Rothman approached different genres within exploitation from her unique perspective. It's the exact reason why a diversity of voices in horror is so important, and why I hope that we continue to see more female filmmakers supported both now and in the future.
“The Stylist” (2016, dir. Jill Gevargizian; short film) One of my favorite horror shorts of recent years casts Contracted's Najarra Townsend as a hair stylist who gets a client late one night and gives her a very special haircut. The most ambitious short to date from director Jill Gevargizian is exquisitely made and acted: the photography is beautiful, the compositions and pacing confident. Plus, it's really gory and gross. What I especially like about it is the way it begins, as many short films do, as something that is premise-based but by the end has totally become a character piece. Gevargizian has recently commented online that she has a script ready for a feature-length adaptation of the short and is currently trying to find financing. Hopefully someone who can bankroll the film is reading this, because I desperately want that movie to happen—not just because I want to see more of “The Stylist,” but also because I’m dying to see Gevargizian direct a feature. She’s going to crush it.
Mirror/Mirror (1989, dir. Marina Sargenti) The late '80s and early '90s saw a handful of prominent horror movies being directed by women; Kathryn Bigelow directed Near Dark, Mary Lambert directed Pet Sematary, Rachel Talalay directed Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, but it was still too much an exception and not enough of a rule (the more things change...). One female-helmed horror movie that doesn't get talked about enough—and by that I mean practically at all, since I had never heard of it until it showed up on Shudder—is Marina Sargenti's Mirror/Mirror, about a super goth girl (Rainbow Harvest) who moves to a new house where she finds a magic mirror with the ability to grant her wishes. Discovering this one made me sad I hadn't seen it years earlier, as there's so much to like in it: Rainbow Harvest is Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice by way of Leslie Mann, plus Charlie Spradling is in it. But the best thing about Mirror/Mirror is its willingness to go to places I suspected it would only hint at going. Director Sargenti never made another theatrical feature, instead directing TV for a few more years before apparently getting out of the business.
“Consommé” (2015, dir. Catherine Fordham; short film) This very short short film (it runs under five minutes) is a mostly dialogue-free execution of a single idea in which a woman (Monica West) recalls an attack from the night before. There aren't many surprises in store, but there is one very striking image and I like the short's howl of rage against a specific sub-genre that's been big in horror since the 1970s. It's an entry in that sub-genre that feels like it could only have been made by a woman. That's why it works.
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2013, dir. Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani) A beautiful, strange, completely confounding sort-of giallo from the directors of Amer follows a man (Klaus Tange) looking for his missing wife and encountering a series of new characters and mysteries along the way. It looks great, it sounds great, but even by the standards of the Italian horror films from which it draws such an influence, it's really hard to follow. While it's co-directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, the participation of Cattet is what earns the movie a spot on the list because there are so few giallo films directed by women.
Blood Punch (2013, dir. Madellaine Paxton) Like a nightmare version of Groundhog Day, the debut feature from Madellaine Paxton finds Milo Cawthorne (Deathgasm) brought to a remote cabin to cook meth for a couple (Olivia Tennet and Ari Boyland) to sell. When he and the girl fall for one another, they kill off her boyfriend to escape. The problem is that every day resets itself, requiring them to commit murder day after day after day until they can figure out how to right the timeline. Essentially a feature-length episode of The Twilight Zone, Blood Punch begins in the horror comedy space but ends as something else altogether.
The Midnight Swim (2014, dir. Sarah Adina Smith) Few of the movies on this list are what you would call hardcore “horror,” including this debut feature from writer/director Sarah Adina Smith, about three sisters who must come together after their mother dies. Though done in first-person “found footage” style, the film features three strong central performances and an expertly sustained atmosphere of dread. There’s very little explicit horror to be found, but the feeling that something terrible is coming and could happen any minute pervades every scene. Smith would tackle horror more directly in her segment for the 2016 anthology Holidays, but that one’s not streaming on Shudder.
My Sucky Teen Romance (2011, dir. Emily Hagins) Originally known as the 12-year-old director of the zombie film Pathogen (and subject of the subsequent documentary Zombie Girl: The Movie), Emily Hagins has carved out a real career for herself both inside and out of the horror genre. Her third film, My Sucky Teen Romance, is more of a teen comedy set inside the horror universe as a young girl falls in love with a teenage vampire during a weekend at a genre convention. This feels the most personal of all her movies because it's so much about being young and loving certain kinds of stuff. Hagins sets it in a world that feels totally authentic because it's a world she knows. It's neither the funniest nor the most romantic of romantic comedies, but it's utterly charming.
Trouble Every Day (2000, dir. Claire Denis) French director Claire Denis' part psychological, part visceral horror film from 2001 is, shall we say, super messed up. It has murder and obsession and cannibalism and Vincent Gallo, all things with the potential to be completely nightmarish. The movie can be a challenging watch, but the way that Denis cuts through the drama with bloody brutality is fascinating. You have to admire a movie that starts weird and dark and only gets weirder and darker.
“Innsmouth” (2015, dir. Izzy Lee; short film) If you’ve been to a horror festival in the last year or two, there’s a good chance you’ve seen something from writer/director Izzy Lee, whose recent shorts “Rites of Vengeance” and “For a Good Time Call” have been playing festivals and winning awards around the world all year. You don’t have to go to a festival to see “Innsmouth” (though that’s how I first saw it), which is loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft's 1931 novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Lee's short film switches the gender roles for a film that both stars primarily women and is also specifically about women. A detective discovers an unusual murder scene, the investigation of which leads her to Innsmouth and into the company of a strange woman (played by indie horror mainstay Tristan Risk, forever a welcome presence in anything). The short has some rough edges, but that's the nature of Lovecraft. It's all about dread and weirdness, which Lee completely gets. She also offers up one of the craziest money shots I can think of in recent horror. You won't soon forget it.
In case you missed it, check here to read our other special features that celebrate the Halloween season!