For many filmmakers, horror is the jumping off point when it comes to the world of directing. There’s a lot of reasons why this is the case for so many. Could be that they have a love for the genre. Could also be that, as a genre, horror is open and nearly anything goes. Production can be minimal on a horror film and that is commonly accepted – sometimes it even works in a film’s favor (Looking at you Paranormal Activity). It’s a genre based on primal emotions and a genre that has avid, thirsting fans. As fans of horror, we are constantly on the search for new ideas and visions that we haven’t seen before. An eternal quest to scratch that itch that is ever present at the very base of our beings. We are open to new voices and accept them with welcome arms.
It’s for these reasons and more that so many directors start in the horror realm. Whether or not they continue to dwell there is another thing, but for many, they find the genre to be a great way to kickstart their directing career. As it is Women in Horror Month, it’s the perfect time to take a look at some of the fantastic female directors that have gotten their start in horror. Let’s dive in, shall we:
10. Amy Holden Jones
It’s always helpful to have a mentor when starting a new career, and Jones just happened to have two of the best early in her career. After winning an award for a documentary short in college, she caught the eye of Martin Scorsese who recognized her talent and hired her as an assistant during filming for Taxi Driver. When Roger Corman called up Scorsese looking for a film editor, Scorsese recommended Jones for the position. After working with Corman as an editor on several films, Jones approached Corman with her desire to become a director. Corman gave her the opportunity, and Jones made her directorial debut with the cult favorite, Slumber Party Massacre.
Jones has often discussed her frustrations with the industry due to the fact that despite her skills, abilities, and talent, directing jobs simply weren’t offered to women during this time period. While she did go on to direct three other features, Jones found a home in the world of writing. Her writing credits include Mystic Pizza, Beethoven, The Relic, Indecent Proposal and the current TV Series The Resident.
9. Jackie Kong
Have you seen Blood Diner!? One of the absolute greatest horror comedies ever created, Blood Diner was directed and produced by Kong. But before this film, there was The Being. A horror/sci-fi tale written and directed by Kong about a mutated monster terrorizing a small town. While Kong’s output trickled off in the ’90s, her clever eye and wit makes her a unique and fascinating voice in film.
8. Ida Lupino
While you may not immediately recognize the name, you have almost certainly encountered her work. With 41 directing credits and 105 acting credits to her name, Lupino was a force to be reckoned with. A true pioneer, Lupino started directing in 1949 and one of her very first films was 1950’s Outrage. This would soon be followed by The Hitch-Hiker in 1953. Lupino would then go on to direct a lot of TV, including a few episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. A prolific actress who was just as often found behind the camera as in front of it and a true trailblazer in her field.
7. Kathryn Bigelow
If you Google top female directors, Bigelow is the first name to pop up. With huge blockbusters under her belt including The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, and Point Break, it’s easy to forget that it really all started for her with the incredible Near Dark. The incredible way she balances and intertwines action with emotion created a movie like no other and one of the best in the sub-genre of vampire films.
6. Rachel Talalay
Talalay began her film career by working with the one and only John Waters on his film Polyester. Soon, she met Robert Shaye (head of New Line Cinema) and thus entered the world of Freddy Krueger. After working on several of those films, it wasn’t long before she helmed her own installment of the franchise and directed her first film, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Talalay has gone on to become a super active TV series director and has recently held the chair on shows like American Gods, Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
5. Leigh Janiak
Lest you think directors starting with horror is a thing of the past, let’s talk about Leigh Janiak. Her very first film where she donned the director’s cap was 2014’s Honeymoon…which she also wrote. The dark, emotional film stars Game of Thrones alum Rose Leslie and instantly garnered attention for Janiak. Since then she has directed a few episodes of Scream: The TV Series and is currently in pre-production for the upcoming Fear Street film. A woman to watch for sure.
4. Jennifer Lynch
It’s easy to see why and how one might lean towards the world of horror when your dad is the iconic David Lynch. When she decided to take the creative reigns herself, Lynch directed and wrote a film called Boxing Helena about a man who kidnaps a woman and amputates her limbs to hold her captive. Yeesh. After a brief hiatus, she picked up right where she left off and has since racked up a hefty amount of directing credits in both the TV and film world. These include, but are certainly not limited to, episodes of American Horror Story, Daredevil, Damien and The Strain.
3. Mary Lambert
Lambert’s path into the world of film is an interesting one. Her early career was filled with music as she directed music videos for artists such as Madonna, The Go-Go’s, Eurythmics and Janet Jackson. When she decided to enter the world of feature films, she quickly came out strong with her second feature being an adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. A prolific director, Lambert is still actively directing films, music videos, TV, TV movies, and even video games!
2. Ana Lily Amirpour
Just when you think you’ve seen every kind of vampire movie out there, we get Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Based on a short that she had written a few years previous, Amirpour created a film that took the festival circuit by storm and racked up quite a few wins and nominations. She soon followed that up with The Bad Batch and has directed a few episodes of Legion and Castle Rock. With her talent for storytelling, Amirpour is clearly just getting started. Her upcoming film Blood Moon is currently in pre-production.
1. Mary Harron
There are few films that captured the feel, culture and aesthetic of the late 1990s like American Psycho. A tough story to tackle and actually tell well, Harron was able to make cinematic magic with her vision of the tormented Patrick Bateman. The film crossed out of the horror world and hit the mainstream like a ton of watermarked, eggshell embossed business cards. From there, Harron would go on to helm the wheel on a solid mix of features and TV episodes. Still actively directing, her latest film Dali Land is currently in pre-production.
While this list includes some great female voices in film, it is by no means complete. Honorable mentions such as Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Holly Dale (Blood & Donuts) Jodie Foster (Stephen King’s Golden Tales) and more could just as easily be on this list. Who are some of your favorite female horror directors? Let us know over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!