Women Filmmakers Tell Us Why They Love The Horror Genre

Women directors, producers and stars on the appeal of horror.






February 2017 is the 8th annual Women in Horror Month, so we decided we'd ask some of our female filmmaking friends, most of whom work chiefly in the horror genre, to tell us what exactly attracts them to a genre that's increasingly putting mainstream cinema to shame when it comes to equal opportunities.



Shauna Macdonald (Actress: The Descent, Nails)
The horror genre allows me to play all my cards as an actor. I get to be strong, weak, scared, ferocious, distraught, cold hearted, broken hearted, physically dominant and also battered and brusied. The stakes are always high so the acting has to be emotionally charged and focused.

I fell in love with the genre playing Sarah in The Descent. I loved having the oppourtunity to seriously kick some butt whilst allowing the character to go on a huge emotional journey.

The horror set is always a fun set, even when the pressure is on. I love being part of a team that genuinely adores scaring people!



Jennifer Blanc-Biehn (Actress: The Victim, Among Friends)
I started with theatre, comedy and more drama like Party of Five and Brighton Beach MemoirsHow I fell into the genre of sorts starts with James Cameron, much like how that started for Michael (Biehn, Jennifer's husband) and many others. I was cast opposite Jessica Alba in the series Dark Angel, and from the pilot on we knew there was a fan base. Then once the early cancellation happened and the conventions began I realised the excitement of horror and sci-fi fans.

And then after being cast in a few horror films, as was Michael in Planet Terror, we eventually decided to make our own with my friend Danielle Harris. From The Victim on, the primary focus for our company has been genre cinema, and we've just released HavenhurstDirecting and producing in this genre is a whole lot of fun, and I learn more things every day.

I myself love The Shining, The ExorcistTrue Romance and many thrillers, so being a fan myself it seems the perfect place to spend lots of work time.

I've also been a huge fan of Anne Rule, who wrote The Stranger Beside Me and many other serial killer and true crime books; scary shit and very interesting.



Kelli Maroney (Actress: Night of the Comet, Chopping Mall)
I was drawn to horror as a little girl. They ran Frankenstein, Dracula and other black and white old horror films on Saturdays on TV, and I preferred them to the cartoons. Whatever chemical response happens in our brains when we get scared or on-edge, watching a horror film gives us a chance to release that low-grade anxiety we carry around in real life. An all-out scare blows it out in a super fun way because we're actually safe on the couch or in the theatre. I think it's healthy.

Another reason that I love the horror genre so much is because  it inherently creates much better roles for young actresses than simply being 'the girlfriend.' An actress has a much bigger shot at getting a meaty leading role and showcasing her talent and craft in a good horror flick. Plus, horror is a consistently popular genre. Thanks for celebrating us with Women in Horror month!



Emily Hagins (Writer/Director: Pathogen, The Retelling)
When I was 12, I was drawn to horror because I was so afraid of everything (in movies and in real life, including things like Halloween) that I became fascinated by the process of how blood and guts got made because it helped me face my fears. I wanted to learn more and more about the conventions of the genre, and the "rules" of different sub genres, so that I could understand why I was afraid and utilise these tools to be a better filmmaker and storyteller. And since the horror genre has been largely dominated by male voices, I think there are lots of opportunities for female filmmakers to work with horror to tell stories that haven't been told yet.



Lotti Pharriss Knowles (Writer/Producer: Chastity Bites)
I’m not sure what has drawn me as a person to the horror genre — it’s something you either love or hate, and maybe it’s genetic! All I know is, from a young age I was attracted to horror and the macabre, and by the time I was a teenager I was a full-blown fear addict who couldn’t get enough.

Speaking as a female filmmaker, the genre is attractive because it’s one of the only ones that has consistently produced strong, interesting female characters (think Ripley in Alien, Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street, the sisters in Ginger Snaps, and on and on). Perhaps because horror is the black sheep of the film industry, it’s also been somewhat easier for women to break in behind the camera — though we’re really seeing an incredible surge of female horror filmmakers now. It’s an exciting time to be a woman working in the genre, and our voices are certainly needed in the current political climate.



Victoria De Mare (Actress: Werewolf in a Womens Prison, Killjoy Goes to Hell)
Something odd & unusual has drawn me to horror since I was a little girl. I would bypass the "Disney" section at the old "video stores" and go straight for the horror section despite the fact that I wasn't old enough to rent any of them.

As an actor, the horror genre always seemed to offer the most work. Multiple low-budget horror films shoot all year round in Hollywood, so after I was cast in the legendary filmmaker/producer Roger Corman's horror/comedy Slaughter Studios in 2001, it was literally a way to continue making a living.

The horror genre Is a "mainstream" genre to me.  Every week in the U.S. there is always a horror film listed in the top five films, so the "studio" film box office supports my opinion nationwide on a weekly basis. The horror genre has always supported women as the more dominant and popular figures in their productions, so naturally the genre accommodates female filmmakers well. However, I believe that women have become massively more powerful in Hollywood as of late, whether it be heading major studios, making films, or starring in them, and they will continue to do so as long as there is a Hollywood making movie magic.



Sandy King Carpenter (Producer: In the Mouth of Madness, Ghosts of Mars)
Working in the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genre allows us as artists to speak to an audience at large about things that move us as a society and as individuals in isolation from  that whole. It’s the ultimate Storyteller’s medium. We can appeal to the commercial need of the industry while at the same time addressing man’s oldest myths and fears to make bigger statements. Good horror comes from truth and great stories have truth and reality at their core. The genre’s versions of conservative and liberal have only to do with where the evil lies—in the “other”—out there—(conservative/old school) or within ourselves (liberal/more modern). The battle between good and evil is eternal, so we can revisit it in many forms.

I find a lot of parallels between comedy and horror and it comes as no surprise to me that both genres are more welcoming to women. Maybe we’ve danced with the Devil a few more times than makes men comfortable…or maybe we just see the humour in the pain more clearly.

Whatever the answer, it is now clear that women are here in horror: watching  it, creating it and spreading the word. Come on in, the water’s fine.



Jamie Bernadette (Actress: All Girls Weekend, I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu)
I've been drawn to the horror genre since I was a child. As I would watch movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream and Halloween,  I always dreamt about being the star in them. Horror is a thrill because it causes the viewer to mentally interact within the different scenarios that the film presents by asking themselves how they would escape from such a situation or what would they do? It's like a mouse trying to get out of a maze or trying to solve a puzzle. I think that's why it's exciting.

For ages, horror has had strong female leads as a theme. I think that does transcend other genres, especially in earlier films like in the '70s for example. While other genres were telling the Cinderella story of the men saving the women, horror was telling the story of women saving themselves. The last standing survivor in almost all horror films? A woman. And, for that reason alone, we have to love this genre, now don't we?



Debbie Rochon (Actress/Director: Tromeo And Juliet, Model Hunger)
I was always interested in counter-culture art and expression so it was no surprise when I found myself in the independent film scene. I think the pluses far outweigh the negatives being involved in smaller releases. The biggest draw for me, as an artist is being able to say anything socially, politically and emotionally in the genre of horror. It’s a type of film that you can take on any subject matter and express any opinion. It’s the open space where many points can be made in the womb of the supernatural and absurd.

As an actress you are afforded the opportunity to create extreme characters in extreme circumstances. Seeing I grew up in extreme circumstances I can relate much more to expressing myself in that context. I love horror and art films for the simple reason the world in which the characters live is not ‘normal’ and that is pure joy to be able to act in.



Amanda Wyss (Actress: A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Id)
Happily, the horror genre found me. As a girl, I played Flora in a production of The Innocents and Rhoda in The Bad Seed. One of my first roles as a teen was in a TV movie called This House Possessed. Next was A Nightmare On Elm Street, the Son of Darkness movies... on to my latest, The Id. I was always a fan of horror literature, The Others by Thomas Tryon and The Exorcist were early favourites. So it felt natural and familiar reading scary scripts and bringing fantastical and horrific stories to life in a truthful way.

It's interesting to me that across all genres - film and television - I've worked with only six female directors. It's exciting that there are such powerful women story-tellers out there right now. I look forward to seeing what the future brings.



Madeline Brumby (Actress: Dear God No!, Frankenstein Created Bikers)
My fascination with death draws me to horror. The fact that I’m going to die gives me great motivation, need, and urgency to accomplish greatness while I’m alive. Horror captures extreme, exciting, thrilling, and terrifying moments that remind us of our fragile and delicate state of being. Women in this genre often exude desperation, despair, destruction, determination, depth, and defiance.

Horror sometimes considers the female condition that is not always captured or appreciated in other genres. The female is typically in peril throughout horror films, which is, generally, what it feels like to be a woman. You may think I’m exaggerating, but being a woman is no easy feat.

The horror genre has a particular worship and adoration for the feminine state. These women of horror lust for capturing and achieving the very essence of life. They are a powerful and formidable force that embodies what it feels like to be human. That’s why horror is so invested in its female muses. Horror simply cannot live without its women.



Staci Layne Wilson (Writer/Director/Producer: The FiancĂ©, The Lincoln)
I’m often asked whether or not being female has hindered me as a screenwriter and director. I suppose, the way of the world being as it is, it possibly has. But not in such a way as I’d notice. I’m not vying for big television or major studio jobs, where the stakes are higher and the boys' club still calls the shots. I’ve written and directed two features with modest budgets, and that’s just fine with me.

I’ve been embraced by the L.A. horror scenesters – probably because I’ve paid my dues by being a steadily-working genre journalist since 2002, and because I support good storytellers (regardless of gender) without expecting anything in return. It is a fact that I am not yet able to support myself with my filmmaking jobs, but I think that’s true of most indie horror folks.



Brooke Lewis (Actress: Ms. Vampy, Killer Rack)
After working as an actress and producer in many genres, I finally found a true home and community in the horror genre! I was a horror fanatic as a child and was always fascinated with sexy and mysterious things and energies. I also had a Vampire obsession at an early age...welcome Ms. Vampy! LOL!

I was truly honoured when the media began calling me a "Scream Queen" 10 years ago, as, to me, it represents a "Powerful, sexy actress in the horror genre." I love how the horror genre goes against the Hollywood grain and welcomes women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities! I think that, for many years, men dominated the horror filmmaking world, but, since I have been on the horror scene, women filmmakers have exploded!

I believe there is a certain strength beneath the skin of women working in horror! I think they are both literally and figuratively more fearless than a lot of women filming in mainstream genres, as we know this genre is not for the "faint of heart"! I think that we can find undertones of both love and pain in many of the best horror films, and who better to write and direct those elements than women? I think since a horror film can be made on a lower budget than a lot of mainstream movies, it creates a more accessible opportunity for a first time female director to show us what she's got and create a "horrific" calling card for herself and her career! I salute all the wonderful Women In Horror this month!




Ashley Mary Nunes (Actress: Scary Larry, All Through the House)
I was born and raised into the horror genre. My older brother, Todd Nunes (writer/director of All Through the House) was obsessed with the genre growing up. He would film his own VHS horror movies with his friends and even did Friday the 13th and Halloween as stage plays when he was in High School. I was always included. My brother is definitely the reason I am so drawn to this genre. I was never censored from horror movies growing up. I guess you can say that my brother was training me to be a Scream Queen from the day I was born.

The blood, the gore, the scare, the screaming, it all fascinates me. I believe that women are the stars of the horror genre. It's our way of showing how strong and powerful women are. We are often underestimated. Women are definitely becoming more involved in this genre outside of being a Scream Queen. More and more women are definitely taking charge in the filmmaking process in horror and I couldn't be happier. I'm looking forward to what the future brings us.




Cortney Palm (Actress: Zombeavers, The Dark Tapes)
The first horror movie I saw was Child's Play and I was just five years old. I loved haunted houses and my favorite horror films currently are The Descent, Mirrors and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. I was always drawn to the genre.

When I first came to Hollywood, horror films were the easiest projects to book and because I was comfortable with nudity I was able to easily slide into the genre, since its laden with topless women. However,  that's not what all horror films are about. Look deeper and you'll notice horror films represent life the same way the rock music genre does; so many underlying themes of how we fuck up or how we beat our demons.

Women in horror have progressed so much since the 80s and more opportunities for stronger female characters within the genre have arisen. Women have the power to make whatever film they choose to make; however, the horror genre is easy to finance and easier to distribute because audiences crave this world. That's why I think there are more opportunities for female directors to get noticed. Thanks for celebrating female actors/directors/producers/makeup/fx/etc for Women in Horror month!



To learn more about the work of women in the horror genre, visit womeninhorrormonth.com




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