deena and sam in Fear Street Part 3: 1666

12 Best Horror Movies Directed by Women

Slow clap for these ladies!

You love horror, I love horror, and you know what else I love? Seeing more diversity behind the camera. Obviously, Jordan Peele is one of the most popular horror directors. And him being a Black man is really amazing representation. But I’d like to see more from Black women directors, especially! There’s just nothing wrong with wanting more diversity behind the horror we love. Thankfully, we’ve seen notable increases, with some of the best horror movies of the past few years being directed by women. You might actually find yourself surprised.

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I must point out that the reason American Mary (2012) won’t be discussed (beyond this mention) is because of the Soska Sisters being major yikes. So it’s not because the movie is bad or that Katharine Isabelle isn’t a horror icon. Now, let’s get to the list and see which movies folks should check out if they haven’t already.

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

the friends eating pizza in The Slumber Party Massacre
(New World Pictures)

Director: Amy Holden Jones

Women dominate this film. From folks performing services (other than the pizza boy) to the basketball coach at the high school, women are a strong presence on screen and off. Of course, the killer is a man still, who escaped from the local mental hospital and who uses a phallic weapon (a drill). The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) has a cult following for a reason, it’s got so many iconic moments and characters. While the plot seems really basic, there’s an endearing nature to it. Trish (Michelle Michaels) invites her crew over for a slumber party (ha!) while her parents aren’t home. And just when they think they’re going to get high, act silly, and all that fun shit—they slowly begin being killed off. Amy Holden Jones really gave us a stellar ’80s slasher that’s actually pretty funny.

Near Dark (1987)

mae being mysterious in Near Dark
(De Laurentiis Entertainment Group)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Quite recently this film was included in one of my listicles, so check that out to see what’s what. Though, I think it’s important to mention how this movie suffered at the box office. Ironically, during the time when vampire horror movies were popping off. One thing that makes this movie so intriguing is how Mae (Jenny Wright) flips the script. As a woman, she’d typically be depicted as the one being seduced and turned. Only this time, she was the one luring in a victim. A very fun change of pace for the time this was coming out.

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

iconic kiss between jennifer & needy in Jennifer's Body
(20th Century Studios and Fox Atomic)

Director: Karyn Kusama

Jennifer’s Body (2009) has been endlessly discussed and for good reason. Especially, since it didn’t get the praise and appreciation it deserved in 2009. In fact, it got treated horribly for years until it become a queer cult classic. Some aspects of this film haven’t aged well. But it’s a late 2000s film, so that’s really not surprising. What’s special is the impact on pop culture it had, and how it shifted the way we perceive female villains. It maintains its icon status and Jennifer (Megan Fox) is still quotable to this day. It’s also a personal fave of mine—so, watch it!

The Babadook (2014)

amelia screaming while holding samuel in The Babadook
(Madman Entertainment)

Director: Jennifer Kent

Ghostface: [over phone] What’s your favorite scary movie?

Tara Carpenter: The Babadook. It’s an amazing meditation on motherhood and grief.

– Scream 5 (2022)

A mother (who desperately needs grief counseling after her husband’s death), and her son (who, at first, seems kind of creepy/annoying), encounter a mysterious children’s book that ends up bringing them terror. The Babadook (2014) is a bit frustrating in the beginning as we watch Amelia (Essie Davis) and Samuel (Noah Wiseman)’s dysfunctional relationship. Amelia is so caught up in the grief of her husband’s death that she can barely love her son. Meanwhile, Samuel has behavioral issues and is a bit of a handful to the point where Amelia can’t even have alone time (you know what I mean). But Tara (Jenna Ortega)’s quote in Scream (2022) was quite accurate regarding this movie—eventually, this terrifying movie morphs into something quite sad, poignant, and ultimately, hopeful. And of course, the Babadook is wild looking and a supremely good monster villain.

The Invitation (2015)

will looking exhausted in The Invitation
(Drafthouse Films)

Director: Karyn Kusama

This movie is so unsettling and builds up to a climax that’s so wild—you’re glad you didn’t receive this particular invitation. Karyn Kusama is a genius, and I particularly love her horror (as you’ll see she’s on this list more than once). The Invitation (2015) focuses on Will (Logan Marshall-Green), and his new girlfriend, who go to a dinner hosted by his ex-wife. From there, things get creepier and creepier, while also breaking down the emotional aspects of Will and his ex’s past—the grief depicted in this film is palpable and quite uncomfortable. I won’t spoil what’s actually going on at this dinner party (Poor Will barely wanted to go to the dinner in the first place) but let’s just say that the quiet, awkward discomfort that fills the first part of the film, gives way to some pretty wild stuff.

Revenge (2017)

jen holding a weapon in Revenge
(Rézo Films)

Director: Coralie Fargeat

Revenge (2017) is a violent revenge tale that follows a rape survivor, but it spares you from having to see the actual assault. All of the people who wronged her in this film get what’s coming to them. Each and every one. The whole film is quite stylish, and our protagonist, Jen (Matilda Lutz), running around with weapons in a scantily clad outfit? Not grossly exploitative at all, actually. What’s brilliant about it is the fact that she reclaims her power in her outfit. She’s dirty, and angry, and rightfully looking to ruin everyone’s day.

Satanic Panic (2019)

judi and sam dealing with some mess in Satanic Panic
(RLJE Films)

Director: Chelsea Stardust

Imagine having to deliver pizza to a literal satanic cult and then almost being murdered by said cult. If you don’t already know, Chelsea Stardust is a big deal in the horror world. Therefore, this film being directed by her is a good time. Satanic Panic (2019) is unapologetic about being a horror comedy, too! We need breaks from super serious horror movies. It’s not an overly complex plot either, it’s basically about Sam (Hayley Griffith) who is a pizza delivery girl and delivers a pizza to a satanic cult—leading to a night of chaos. And it’s really just a fun time.

The Fear Street Trilogy (2021)

deena and sam in Fear Street Part 3: 1666

Director: Leigh Janiak

One of the best things to come out of 2021 (as far as horror goes) was this trilogy. The excitement that a lot of us felt as each movie was released was REAL. Not only is the core story a queer love story, the diversity is great overall in the film. And the women are actually developed characters. Even while being horror archetypes. All three parts in the trilogy tap into different horror subgenres (with part three being puritan horror/’90s slasher) and explore different eras. There’s a lot to the plot, but overall, it’s about Deena (Kiana Madeira) trying to save her girlfriend and the town from a curse that’s not what it seems. Leigh Janiak truly delivered and gave us some new horror icons. And also, some wild-ass deaths throughout the trilogy (bread cutters will never be the same).

Candyman (2021)

anthony being freaked out in Candyman
(Universal Pictures)

This is Nia Dicosta’s Candyman (2021). Give her the respect she deserves! This direct sequel said nope to the other sequels and just follows the events from the original. Therefore, little baby Anthony grew into adult Anthony (Yahya Abdul Mateen II) who was doomed from the jump. Not only does Candyman return but he’s not the same. We discover much in the way of the mythos of Candyman and the impact it’s had across time. There are many Black folks who have assumed the identity after their injustices. It’s a beautifully directed movie, and the scenes of violence are so memorable that your eyes just widen. Not only that, but this movie has no issues talking about racism, gentrification, and generational trauma. It’s genuinely worth checking out.

Fresh (2022)

noa in Fresh
(Searchlight Pictures)

Director: Mimi Cave

Steve (Sebastian Stan) has the meats, but just not the kind you’re looking for. Unless you’re one of his clients. Surprise! This movie is about Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) who has had really horrendous luck in the dating scene. The men she keeps going on dates with are asshole misogynists. Therefore when she meets Steve at the grocery store and he’s charming—she gets drawn in. Only to end up kidnapped and be in a sinister situation involving meat…I think you can guess what that is. Fresh (2022) is one of the best horror movies of the year for real. The acting’s great, the directing is top-notch, the characters are dynamic and weird, and the soundtrack is on point. Plus, it explores modern dating and how dating apps really aren’t for everybody.

Honorary mentions:

  • Pet Sematary (1989) directed by Mary Lambert
  • Saint Maud (2021) directed by Rose Glass

(featured image: 20th Century Studios and Fox Atomic)

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Image of Vanessa Maki
Vanessa Maki
Vanessa Maki (she/her) is a queer Blerd and contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She first started writing for digital magazines in 2018 and her articles have appeared in Pink Advocate (defunct), The Gay Gaze (defunct), Dread Central and more. She primarily writes about movies, TV, and anime. Efforts to make her stop loving complex/villainous characters or horror as a genre will be futile.