Female horror directors have spent decades defining their space in the male-dominated horror genre. Indeed, as our list proves, women filmmakers have created some of the boldest and most terrifying movies around, from groundbreaking noir nightmares to modern-day meditations on body horror, body politics, capitalism run amok, and more. Alas, many of these films are criminally under-seen. Thankfully, the horror genre is evolving. And with platforms like Etheria Film Night amplifying the voices of women directors, editors, producers, and screenwriters, horror films directed by women have experienced a surge in popularity and visibility within the past ten years.
With that in mind, we're highlighting fifteen of our favorite female horror directors and spotlighting a must-see flick made by each filmmaker. From Ida Lupino’s career-defining film The Hitch-Hiker to Natalie Erika James’s breakout hit Relic, every filmmaker on this list makes it clear that women can create nightmarish films just as disturbing as their male counterparts—if not more so. Without further ado, here are fifteen female horror directors and as their best horror movies that will make you second guess every bump in the night.
Mary Harron / American Psycho
Director Mary Harron released her second film American Psycho in 2000. It's adapted from the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name and features a unique examination of everything from 1980s capitalism and toxic masculinity to the unchecked privilege afforded white men in business suits with bespoke business cards. Harron has always shown an interest in the dark side of American life. Her movie follows Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a young, wealthy, and an utterly unhinged stockbroker in New York City whose hunger for success is matched only by his thirst for murder.
Jennifer Kent / The Babadook
Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook took the horror genre by storm when it was released in 2014. It became one of the most talked-about films of the year. Kent captures the dynamic between a single mother and her son as they become the targets of the malevolent Babadook. The director’s ability to create a creature that represents the difficulties of parenthood and loneliness is a marvel to behold, and continues to haunt viewers to this day.
Natalie Erika James / Relic
In 2020, Natalie Erika James made her directorial debut with the horrific family thriller Relic. Edna, the family's aging matriarch, is suffering from dementia. Daughter Kay and granddaughter Sam come together to take care of Edna, only for Edna's illness to take a turn for the demonic. James artfully frames the family dynamic with the horror of hereditary illness and adds supernatural elements to offer a variety of truly terrifying moments. While Relic is James’s only full-length feature, it's a stunning film that sets the bar high for future works of horror.
Anna Biller / The Love Witch
If you're looking for a highly stylized and psychedelic witch movie about a sorceress searching for love in all the wrong places, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is the horror movie for you. It's filmed entirely on 35mm film to evoke the mood of 1960s horror. Elaine is a witch in California who's searching for true love. As her quest continues, she leaves behind a trail of bodies of unsatisfying lovers. Biller’s film is unlike any other on this list due to its stylized narrative and intricate details about tarot, witchcraft, and more.
Mary Lambert / Pet Sematary
One of the most iconic women in horror, Mary Lambert is known for Pet Sematary, the 1989 cinematic adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same name. Lambert also directed the movie's sequel, Pet Sematary 2. Throughout her career, she has worked in an array of genres. Yet Lambert’s true talents lie in horror. In Pet Sematary, she takes the story of a cursed pet cemetery and transforms it into difficult conversations on reincarnation, the afterlife, and how far a father will go in order to bring their child back from the dead. It's a classic horror film that everyone must see at least once.
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Julia Ducournau / Raw
Julia Ducournau is known for her talents in the realm of body horror, especially in the film Raw. It features a young girl named Justine who begins as a vegetarian but grows a taste for human flesh after eating meat for the first time. Ducournau pushes the bar with this film due to the fact that she avoids zombie tropes in exploring themes of ravenousness and cannibalism. Justine is a seemingly innocent young-adult who transforms into a cannibal by nothing more than chance.
Ida Lupino / The Hitch-Hiker
Ida Lupino is known for being the only woman to ever direct an episode of The Twilight Zone: 1964's "The Masks". And yet, in 1953, she was also the first woman to direct a film noir with The Hitch-Hiker. The film blurs the lines between genres, tapping into crime drama and psychological thriller to craft its twisting narrative about a mysterious hitch-hiker on a murder spree. With a killer hitch-hiker and a legendary director, The Hitch-Hiker is a must see for any fan of horror or Ida Lupino in general.
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Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska (a.k.a. the Soska Sisters) / American Mary
Jen and Sylvia Soska, also known as the Soska Sisters, are famous for their violent horror films such as American Mary. The 2012 body horror film features a medical student who's desperate for money and decides to offer black market surgeries, transforming people with bodily modifications. It offers viewers gritty horror with a dash of comedy. While some scenes are not for the faint of heart, American Mary defined the Soska Sisters as a dynamic duo in the genre.
Ana Lily Amirpour / A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night redefined the vampire horror sub-genre. It's considered the first Iranian vampire Western, featuring a female protagonist who kills insidious men. The Girl roams the streets at night in the hopes of keeping women safe from the predatory behaviors of bad men in Bad City. Amirpour’s vampire is the most relatable and contemporary depiction to date. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night does not rely on flashy imagery or sexual overtones. The Girl rides a skateboard, listens to records, and protects women living in Bad City, making her a vampire unlike any other.
Axelle Carolyn / Soulmate
In her first full-length feature, Axelle Carolyn embraces the paranormal with the film Soulmate. As Audrey recovers after attempting to take her own life, she begins to fear that the secluded cottage she’s sought refuge in is haunted by a bizarre spirit. In a strange turn of events, Audrey grows fond of the ghost named Douglas. Soulmate posits that a person’s one true love could already be dead. While Carolyn leaves this interpretation entirely up to the audience, it's a jarring revelation that sometimes an individual meets their soulmate after death has taken them.
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Marina Sargenti / Mirror, Mirror
Marina Sargenti’s cult classic Mirror, Mirror follows a mother and daughter after discovering a haunted antique mirror in their new home. The mirror allows for the young girl Megan to manifest powers for the purpose of revenge. Ultimately, Megan's newfound powers lead to dark and deadly places. Sargenti’s film is supernatural, slightly gory, and even includes elements familiar to witchcraft.
Lisa Brühlmann / Blue My Mind
Lisa Brühlmann creates a coming of age story for the main character, Mia, in the horror film Blue My Mind. As she begins to exhibit bizarre behaviors at the cusp of maturity, the director introduces complex conversations on body-image, body dysmorphia, and self-harm. It's a horror film that explores the real-life struggles many teenagers face. In the midst of everything, Brühlmann’s Blue My Mind submerges its viewers all-out body horror. Any fan of fairytales, body horror, or the bizarre will surely enjoy this film.
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Agnieszka Smoczynska / The Lure
Agnieszka Smoczynska took the classic Hans Christian Andersen story “The Little Mermaid” and created the horror musical The Lure. When two mermaids, Golden and Silver, emerge to the surface to enjoy the nightlife, and Silver soon offers to trade her voice in exchange for human legs. What makes this story so horrific is its inclusion of the surgical removal of her tail, Golden’s killing spree, and a startling ending. If you enjoyed the animated film but wished it was shot through with horror, The Lure is perfect for you.
Karyn Kusama / Jennifer’s Body
When Karyn Kusama’s 2009 horror film Jennifer’s Body, starring Megan Fox, first hit theaters, audiences and critics disliked it, with many accusing the film of employing deceptive advertising. In recent years, it has received a new appreciation for its unique take on teenage friendships and succubus possession. At its core, Jennifer’s Body explores how often women’s bodies are taken advantage of for a man’s personal and/or professional gain. That being said, Jennifer gets her revenge as she literally tears men to shreds in some of the goriest ways imaginable.
Jennifer Reeder / Knives and Skin
For fans of Twin Peaks and David Lynch, Jennifer Reeder’s neo-noir horror film Knives and Skin is the perfect addition to your watchlist. Reeder draws on a wide array of genre and cultural elements to craft a magnificent story about teenage-girls-as-a-mysterious-force to be reckoned with. Reeder includes copious amounts of references to iconic feminists and their literature in order to add depth to her characters and narrative. Knives and Skin has it all, from giallo flourishes to surreal Lynchian Americana all the way to experimental feminist horror.
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