Shaping Horror–Women Writers and Filmmakers–Updated and Expanded

Rather than focusing on actresses in horror, or the term “Scream Queens”, I wanted to take a look at the past and present of women in horror–in creator capacities–particularly writers and directors.

The Soska Sisters (Sylvia and Jen) have been the subject of much praise and buzz for the stylish and intriguing “American Mary” (featuring Katharine Isabelle) and previously brought us “Dead Hooker in a Trunk”.  The twins have also achieved a certain iconic status for their enthusiastic, dynamic personalities, touring and promoting “American Mary” abroad.  They’ve completed production on slasher sequel “See No Evil 2.”
The realm of indie horror has proven to be a welcoming landscape for strong, young female filmmakers such as the Soskas, and other exciting new voices including Tammi Sutton, Elisabeth Fies and Brenda Fies (The Commune), Shannon Lark, Tara Alexis, Tonjia Atomic, Jennifer Campbell, Michelle Fatale, Amy Lynn Best, Tara Cardinal, Nicole Kruex, Axelle Carolyn, Devanny Pinn, Ama Lea, Yelena Sabel, Elske McCain, Lia Scott Price (also a novelist), Staci Layne Wilson (of Dread Central), and Jovanka Vuckovic (former editor of Rue Morgue and director of shorts including The Captured Bird).

A new generation of women horror writers and directors are getting widespread geographic representation–from Chicagoans Claire “Fluff” Llewellyn and actress/writers of “What they Say” Heather Dorff and Kelsey Zukowski (also “Words Like Knives” actress/writer);  Canadians Lianne “Spiderbaby” Mac, Karen Lam (Evangeline, Doll Parts), Nadine L’Esperance, Maude Michaud, and the Soskas; southern filmmakers Emily Hagins (My Sucky Teen Romance), Goldie Fatale, Andie Noir, Blair Richardson, and Shauna Tackett; and those covering horror across the pond: Germany’s Cat la Belle (ThrillandKill, Horrorpilot) and Scotland’s Jennifer Cooper (Musings of a Morleysaurus/Jennifer’s Bodies).

Bloggers, journalists, and film site reviewers such as Lianne (Spiderbaby) Mac and Rebekah McKendry (of Fangoria and Fearnet), Heidi Honeycutt (Planetfury.com, PlanetEtheria.com, and Viscera and Etheria Film Fests), Hannah Neurotica (Ax Wound), Molly Celaschi and Kelsey Zukowski (each previously of Horror Yearbook), Dai Green (HorrorNews.net and several podcasts), Jennifer Cooper, Cat la Belle, Stacie Ponder (Final Girl), Erin Lashley (Deep Red Rum), Rebekah Herzberg, Dolls of Despair, and story writer Nicole Sixx each bring great passion, knowledge of horror/suspense, and nostalgia for a life’s memories of growing up on horror and genre fare to their perspectives on the industry and its product.

Podcasts have grown in popularity with Char Hardin (Charred Remains), Francy Weatherman, Rebekah Herzberg, Karen Zombora,  Claire Connolly (Midnight Spookshow), and Rebekah (and Dave) McKendry’s Killer POV among those.  Writers Alexandra West (of blog Scare Tactic)  and Andrea “Hellbat” Subissati (examining horror from a cultural and sociology perspective) have launched The Faculty of Horror podcast.

Video segment webisodes, such as scribe Lianne Spiderbaby’s smart and funny “Fright Bytes” and writer Jill Killington’s charming and clever video review blog “Jill Kill”, have led to a new generation of horror hostesses that are more review and interview focused.  Jill has also launched a new video streaming show on TRadioV called Kill Baby Kill that she co-hosts.  Lianne has written a soon to be published book on Grindhouse Girls.  Actress Bianca Barnett completed a first season of  WTF (Watch These Films) reviews.

Love her or hate her, Stephenie Meyer, along with J.K. Rowling, have been the two most influential females in popular culture in the last decade.  Female fiction writers, especially in the horror and fantasy genres, wield undeniable influence.  From Meyer’s “Twilight” series (with screenplays by Melissa Rosenberg) to Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse/”True Blood” source material,  Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” epics, L.J. (Lisa Jane) Smith, whose series “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Secret Circle” have both been translated  to TV; Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy novels, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, Nancy A. Collins, Poppy Z. Brite, and the grand vampire and witch matriarch,  Anne Rice.  Also of note are Lois Duncan’s suspense tales and S.D. (Stephani Danelle) Perry’s Resident Evil novels, which run more closely to the video game source material.  And much of modern horror fiction is owed to the horror classics of Shirley Jackson and Mary Shelley.

On the film side, the late Debra Hill has to be seen as a pioneer for female producers and writers, scripting and producing with John Carpenter the classic films Halloween (original and II) and The Fog.  Carpenter’s films became a strong source for female talent–Debra Hill, strong heroines onscreen, and utilizing the late, great composer Shirley Walker.  Mary Lambert helmed Pet Sematary (and its sequel) and was the first female director of a Syfy Channel Original Movie.  Rachel Talalay directed Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Ghost in the Machine, Lori Petty in “Tank Girl”, and episodes of tv series “The Dead Zone”.  Kathryn Bigelow directed influential cult fave Near Dark before being honored as the first female Best Director by the Academy for The Hurt Locker.  Diablo Cody, Oscar Original Screenplay winner for Juno, brought us the infamous “Jennifer’s Body” (directed by Karyn Kusama, who also did the strong femme-centric films Girlfight and Aeon Flux).  Kimberly Pierce tackled the 2013 Carrie remake and Katt Shea took on the 1999 original Carrie follow-up, The Rage: Carrie 2.  The late Antonia Bird directed the cannibal horror “Ravenous” and Mary Harron helmed and co-scripted “American Psycho” with Guinevere Turner (writer of Bloodrayne).

Screenwriter Jace Anderson (Mortuary, The Toolbox Murders, Mother of Tears) and producers Marianne Maddalena (frequent collaborator with Wes Craven), Julie Corman, Sandy King Carpenter (producing partner with husband John), and Gale Anne Hurd (from Aliens, The Terminator, to The Walking Dead) also deserve mention.

Julie Plec has become one of the most sought after and powerful writer/producer/creators of supernatural TV– co-creating The Vampire Diaries for the CW, along with its successful spin-off The Originals, and the psychic powered teens drama The Tomorrow People.

And genre fave actresses are moving behind the camera, with Danielle Harris directing horror satire “Among Friends” (scripted by cast member Alyssa Lobit).  Kristina Klebe is enrolled in film school at NYU and directed her first short “As Human as Animal”.  Angela Bettis directed frequent collaborator Lucky McKee in “Roman” and worked on a segment for The ABC’s of Death.  Asia Argento has followed in her father Dario’s footsteps, working extensively as a director, in addition to her acting.  Axelle Carolyn directed the short “The Halloween Kid” and feature mystery “Soulmate.”  Debbie Rochon has helmed the horror allegory “Model Hunger.”  Jennifer Blanc-Biehn has moved into the role of frequent producer.

At least half the directors I have worked with in film and theater have been female. They have come into directing from a variety of creative backgrounds: acting, choreography, cinematography, playwriting, and teaching drama.  As a producer, I will work to champion original, strong, and unique female voices and aid in bringing their visions to the screen.  And I hope to see more female crew entering the industry as editors, DP’s, and composers.  Many female journalists, festival programmers, photographers, painters, illustrators, costume designers, make-up artists, and gore/creature-FX creators, currently express their creativity in the horror industry.  And that’s not to mention the number of women creators in comics/graphic novels and television.  So, while wrongly held preconceived notions like “Women can’t be funny…or women can’t do horror” may linger in some minds, a new generation of rising female talent will hopefully erode the last traces of such incorrectly held views.

–Cory Graham@2011, updated 2014

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