As part of October’s horror spotlight, we wanted to shine a light on the women making films today whom you may or may not have heard about. There are so many amazing women behind the scenes who create horror feature films, shorts, and web series. It’s a relatively small-ish circle that’s growing larger with the advent of social media, niche genre festivals, all-women film panels, and networking events.
If you attend these festivals and events, you may have met some of them; perhaps you’re already a fan of their work. At any rate, the strength of the work — as well as their personalities and online presences in most cases — makes the women named here undeniable movers and shakers in the world of genre film. Again, as always, this isn’t a definitive list. I wish I could have included everyone, but it’s simply not possible. You’ll also see that most of these directors work in more than one genre; however, their work in horror is excellent.
This Amazonian is a force to be reckoned with; known for her outspoken ways and unflinching honesty, Vuckovic is someone you can literally look up to. The tattoo shop co-owner and former Rue Morgue editor-in-chief Vuckovic is currently on set directing her first feature, Riot Girls, a violent post-apocalyptic tale — with elements of self-discovery, betrayal, and gruesome justice — in which adults have died off and resources are scarce.
Previously, Vuckovic directed a segment in the all-female horror anthology XX — the chilling adaptation of The Box by Jack Ketchum. Prior to that, she directed a handful of short films, including The Guest, Self-Portrait, and the widely celebrated The Captured Bird, which was executive produced by none other than horror-fantasy hero and advocate Guillermo del Toro.
I, for one, hope that we still get to see Vuckovic’s previously announced adaptation of Clive Barker’s Jacqueline Ess (Lena Headey was set to star!!) in addition to her own thriller All My Heroes Are Dead.
You’ll see that the incredibly vocal former actress McGowan is currently waging war against sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood — for good reason. If you haven’t possibly heard by now, she’s the survivor of rape at the hands of Harvey Weinstein.
Now an activist, photographer, and filmmaker, McGowan is using her celebrity to speak out against criminals to great effect. It’s been rare that someone puts her own livelihood on the line to come forth with allegations in Hollywood, but McGowan is as fierce as they come — a warrior, in fact, and God help anyone who gets in her way. Due to her public callouts, a great many number of people have also stepped forward to say, “yes, this happened to me, too.”
I was excited to hear that she had an Amazon project in the works, but apparently, that was quashed. The Los Angeles Times wrote a piece on it here. We’re going to be missing out on something good, no doubt — McGowan’s Sundance short film Dawn is an excellent mediation of what it means to be a “good girl.” That is, to not speak up, be polite, don’t offend — at the perils of your own life. Dawn is impeccably directed and shot. I’m saddened that we haven’t seen more films from McGowan, and I hope that changes.
Want to see Dawn? McGowan put it up on YouTube to watch for free; you can check it out here.
Hell. Yes. This is a case where the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree where talent is concerned. One of the children of he-who-needs-no-introduction David Lynch, she’s a wickedly talented director herself. Having helmed Boxing Helena in her early 20s, Lynch took time off to raise her own daughter before delving back into the directing pool, but when she did, she came back with a vengeance with Surveillance, the psycho-sexual thriller centered on a pair of FBI agents (Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond) tracking a serial killer.
If you want a masterclass in creating a palpable sense of dread and suspense mainly within one location, you need to watch Lynch’s Chained. Vincent D’Onofrio stars as — yes, another serial killer — who forces one of his captives to follow in his footsteps as a kind of twisted heir.
In between features, Lynch has been keeping quite busy as a television director, known for tense episodes of The Walking Dead and American Horror Story, as well as Quantico, Finding Carter, Teen Wolf, Psych, and much more. I’m happy that Lynch has achieved a great career, but she should be far more well-known than she is. Here’s hoping!
Belgian native Carolyn began her career as an actress and film journalist, but she’s since moved on to behind-the-camera work as a publicist, producer, and director. Her award-winning book on horror films It Lives Again! Horror Movies in the New Millennium was published in 2008. As a fiction author, she’s written several short stories for anthologies, such as Dark Delicacies III and The Mammoth Book of Body Horror.
Carolyn’s great feature debut Soulmate recalled the gothic atmospheres of Hammer Horror and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir with modern updates. Soulmate took on themes suicide — including one graphic scene that was heavily censored in the U.K. — as well as obsessive love. The film was also written by Carolyn and starred Anna Walton (Hellboy II, The Seasoning House) as a woman on edge who convalesces from her suicide attempt in a remote Welsh home. However, she’s not alone, soon joined by a gentleman ghost played by Tom Wisdom (300, Hannibal) who soon develops an unhealthy attachment to her.
Most recently, Carolyn created and co-produced the fun horror anthology Tales of Halloween, a love letter to every horror fan’s favorite holiday. In addition to segments from Neil Marshall, Adam Gierasch, Mike Mendez, Dave Parker, Paul Solet, Lucky McGee, Ryan Schifrin, and John Skipp and Andrew Kasch, Carolyn also wrote and directed the segment “Grim Grinning Ghost,” which starred Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes, Fashionista) with cameos from Mick Garris, Barbara Crampton, Stuart Gordon, Lin Shaye, and Lisa Marie.
I’ve heard that Caryoln is currently developing several feature films and a television series, and I look forward to seeing them.
Jen & Sylvia Soska
The Soska sisters have been working full-throttle for years in one way or another. Their micro-budget feature Dead Hooker in a Trunk caught the eyes of festival-goers and it wasn’t long until they released the modern cult classic American Mary. This terrific feature is a damning examination of rape culture as well as a brutal tale of vengeance. Katherine Isabelle (Hannibal, Ginger Snaps) plays Mary, a medical student who’s drugged and raped by one of her instructors at a party. She dismantles him piece by piece and practices surgeries of her own on him as she also gets deeper into organized crime — as a black market surgeon of sorts.
From there, the twins went on to host the spooky game show Hellevator and direct Vendetta, See No Evil 2, and a segment for ABCs of Death 2 (“T is for Torture Porn”) among several shorts. The Soskas have also been involved with several comics, including a story for Marvel’s Night Nurse character. Their popular yearly Massive Blood Drive PSA series for Women in Horror Month promotes blood donation while also spotlighting indie filmmakers.
The Soskas’ talents and outspoken opinions on everything from equal rights for all, to the topic of women in film, to sharing and promoting the documentary An Open Secret make them both fan favorites and champions of justice. They’re currently remaking David Cronenberg’s 1977 infection flick Rabid.
Kusama is a far quieter presence online and in social media, but when she wants to talk, she does so without compromising her beliefs in interviews. Whether it’s how she “broke out of movie jail” between features or navigating the Hollywood boy’s club, she’s not afraid to speak her mind. Read an interview with her, and you’ll see that her words are just as assured as her films are directed.
Kusama attracts like-minded, strong women; her first feature was the powerful, Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning Girlfight, starring the ultra-tough Michelle Rodriguez. She directed the live-action adaptation of Aeon Flux, starring Charlize Theron and Jennifer’s Body, which, while marketed incorrectly, was a surprising treatise on the darker side of female friendship, with Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried.
Like Vuckovic, Kusama also directed a segment in the all-female horror anthology XX — “Her Only Living Son,” an excellent speculation on the plight of Rosemary and her baby which takes place about 18 years later after the Polanski film.
Her most recent finished film is The Invitation. Like Lynch’s Chained — you basically get a film school in itself — particularly if you want to study suspense in nearly one location. With a strong ensemble cast, The Invitation is a dark thriller that delves into the aftermath of a couple (now broken up and moved on) that lost a child. However, throw a deadly dinner party and a dangerous cult into the mix, and you have a truly chilling ending.
Kusama has been enjoying success as a television director for several shows, such as Billions and The Man in the High Castle. Currently, she is at the helm of Destroyer, starring Nicole Kidman, slated for a 2018 release.