5 Scary Good Horror Films from Women Filmmakers

They may not be nasty, but their films aren’t afraid to be.

Published in
6 min readOct 31, 2016


by Patrick Lee

The Babadook, image courtesy Causeway Films.

Cash-grab sequels and forgettable remakes aside, we are in the middle of a golden age of horror movies, marked in recent years by the emergence of distinctive new voices and horrifying new visions. Many of the best happen to have been directed by women, and their films are as varied in tone and theme as the costumes at your annual Halloween party. These women may not be nasty, but their films aren’t afraid to be sick, twisted, scary, nasty and, above all, honest.

We’ve compiled a list of five of our favorites, suggested by a few the experts in the field (who also happen to be women). There’s psychological horror, micro-budgeted serial killers, supernatural family allegories, rape-revenge body horror and even a harrowing cannibal tale.

1. The Invitation, directed by Karyn Kusama (2016)

Kusama is no stranger to scary movies, having helmed the under-appreciated high school horror show Jennifer’s Body. But with The Invitation, from a script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, she finds terror a lot closer to home: Upper middle-class Los Angeles.

The movie centers on Will (Logan Marshall-Green), who receives a mysterious invite to a dinner party hosted in his former house by his ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), and her charming new husband, David (Michiel Huisman).

That’s scary enough. But as the evening progresses, Will grows increasingly suspicious that things are not as picture-perfect as they seem. Is he just paranoid and envious? Or is there something truly horrifying at the root of his unease? (And that final shot is a killer.)

“Will is the proxy through which we experience the increasingly confounding web of suspicion and surprises that are obfuscated by social niceties and facades of politesse,” wrote Los Angeles Times critic Katie Walsh. She added: “When John Carroll Lynch, who played the Zodiac Killer in David Fincher’s Zodiac and John Wayne Gacy on American Horror Story, shows up, it doesn’t seem likely that this party has a happy ending.”

2. The Babadook, directed by Jennifer Kent (2014)

The first film by Australian Jennifer Kent — which she also wrote, based on her own short film — The Babadook deals with exhausted widow Amelia (Essie Davis) and her struggles with her increasingly erratic 6-year-old son, Sam (Noah Wiseman). Sam finds a strange picture book about a tall, pale monster called the Babadook, which triggers a series of increasingly frightening events and culminates in Amelia having to face her greatest fear.

The Babadook is one of the best psychological horror films. Ever,” said production designer Tema Staig, who also runs Women in Media and teaches design for theater, film and television at L.A. City College. “It deals with issues of grief, helplessness and parent/child relations in a poetic and deeply affecting way. What I like best about it, though, is that it’s an excellent example of an unreliable narrator. It makes one question what’s real and what’s perception. ”

3. American Mary, directed by the Soska Sisters (2013)

This Canadian horror movie — written and directed by twin filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska, the self-styled “Twisted Twins” — charts the descent of medical student Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle), whose financial troubles lead her to encounters with questionable men and an eventual underground career as a “body modification surgeon.”

The Soska Sisters intro their curated Shortlist of great horror movies.

The movie “combines gore, quiet dread, feminist conviction and a visual classicism, often using a red palette, with impressive, unbelabored dexterity,” The New York Times opined.

“Jen and Sylvia Soska’s follow-up to their endearingly lo-fi Dead Hooker in a Trunk (’09) is smart, gory but never gratuitous, and gloriously female-friendly,” Film Comment’s Laura Kern wrote. “The 30-year-old Canadian ‘Twisted Twins,’ who do everything including write, act, direct, produce, set decorate and perform stunts, have received the Eli Roth stamp of approval — but Roth only wishes he could make something half so distinctive!”

4. Family Demons and Inner Demon, directed by Ursula Dabrowsky (2009-’14)

The Demon series of supernatural-tinged horror movies from Australian filmmaker Ursula Dabrowsky comprises gritty micro-budgeted horror films in which the monsters are the people next to you and the explosive violence is as raw as the Outback.

Family Demons tells the story of an abused teen who attempts to escape her miserable existence only to find herself caught in a vicious cycle. Inner Demon focuses on a young girl kidnapped by serial killers whose escape places her in even greater danger; it’s based on a true story.

“Ursula Dabrowksy is an immensely talented horror filmmaker, and if Inner Demon (2014) had been released theatrically in the United States, I believe it would have resonated as strongly with fans as The Babadook did,” said Heidi Honeycutt, the programming director of Etheria Film Night. “In fact, I love Inner Demon so much that I screened it in 2015 at the main Etheria Film Night event at the Egyptian Theatre. I was glad I did, because every single horror fan that walked out of our audience was blown away. The first film in the series, Family Demons (2009), is less explosive and violent than its sequel, but nevertheless is outright shocking and unconventionally intense.”

A third film in the series, The Devil’s Work, is in development.

5. Raw (Grave), directed by Julia Ducournau (2016)

This French-Belgian movie (in French, with subtitles), written and directed by Julia Ducournau, has at its center a vegetarian veterinary student, Justine (Garance Marillier), whose fellow student and sister, Alexia (Ella Rump), compels her as part of a hazing ritual to eat rabbit’s liver. Justine begins to develop cravings for meat, which eventually turn to cannibalism.

The film was so harrowing that paramedics were called to a Toronto film screening after moviegoers fainted while it played, The Guardian reported.

“Julia Ducournau has written and directed a story about sisters, how one looks up to the other — how an older sister will carve a path that the younger sister will be curious to follow, how traits and desires undeniably run in the family,” said Heather Buckley, a producer with Red Shirt Pictures and a contributor to Diabolique, Dread Central, Fangoria and Vulture. “And at what point [will siblings] from the same family, on similar paths, … remain, [be] saved or [be] damned by their core manifestation of self.”

Bonus: Check out the work of Hélène Cattet, a new Belgian director who, with her co-director Bruno Forzani, makes films in giallo, the stylish, gory horror subgenre of the 1960s and ’70s that was dominated by male Italian directors before it faded into dormancy. (“Giallo” means “yellow” in Italian, a reference to the films’ origins in the cheap paperbacks of post-fascist Italy, whose covers came in that color.)

Cattet and Forzani’s films include Amer (2009) and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013).

About Colour, film director and horror critic Staci Layne Wilson has this to say:

The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears was [a] bizarre fever dream, mixing elements of psychedelic giallo (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh), spousal paranoia (Possession), and architecturally aware suspense (Suspiria, The Tenant). Breathtaking Art Nouveau curves blend seamlessly with shapely nude bodies and women’s tendrils and tresses, while razors, knives and strangling hands in black leather gloves provide bloody mayhem that’s good to the last drop. I love to see a female director with, well, balls — Cattet really goes for it, and she pushes everything to the edge with beauty and eroticism.”

Watch our curated list of horror films on Tribeca Shortlist now.




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