A female-driven film to watch every day of the week during Women in Horror Month
Part 4 of 4: Blood, Guts, and Body Counts
(Read Part 1: Superbly Supernatural, Part 2: Various Fanged Fiends, and Part 3: Chilling Thrillers)
In order to celebrate Women in Horror Month, I’ve drafted a categorized list of horror films directed (and often written) by women that deserve your attention. These 28 films – one for each day in February – have been sorted into four categories. This is part three of four. (Read the full intro here).
20. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) dir. Amy Holden Jones
Written: Rita Mae Brown and Amy Holden Jones.
Starring: Michelle Michaels, Robin Stille, Debra Deliso, and Michael Villella.
When the slasher film exploded in popularity in the early 80s, the market was flooded with a wave of imitators imitating other imitators imitating whatever lucky ones floated to the top. The only thing that really distinguished one film from another was the setting and whatever gimmicky weapon-of-choice was wielded by the killer. Then in 1982, The Slumber Party Massacre came along as the first explicitly feminist take on what was quickly becoming a genre accused of rampant misogyny. The story supposedly goes that author and feminist activist Rita Mae Brown wrote the script as a parody, but was played straight in production at the behest of its producers. Nevertheless, Amy Holden Jones’ direction keeps things scathingly satirical and over-the-top. It’s the story of a sleepover that gets attacked by an escaped convict carrying a power drill that’s as lethal as it is symbolically phallic. Very highly recommended.
21. Slumber Party Massacre II (1987) dir. Deborah Brock
Written: Deborah Brock.
Starring: Crystal Bernard, Kimberly McArthur, Atanas Illitch.
The driller killer returns! A survivor of the original (Crystal Bernard) goes to a condo with some friends for a weekend of music and makin’ love. However, she’s plagued by nightmares where her sister begs her to stay chaste. These nightmares produce some kind of metaphysical murderer that targets the teenagers, and the weekend becomes a weird, rock ‘n’ roll fight for survival. The killer’s weapon of choice is an electric guitar with a drill on its head, and if that alone doesn’t sell you on this flick, I don’t know what else will.
22. Slumber Party Massacre III (1990) dir. Sally Mattison
Written: Catherine Cryan.
Starring: Keely Christian, Brittain Frye, Brandi Burkett, and David Greenlee.
CWs: Homophobia, CSA, rape.
This is the final film in the woman-made Slumber Party Massacre trilogy, and it’s rife with overblown Valley Girl lingo and sunny beach vibes. That’s right, it’s the 90s! The drilling and killing continues, and there’s a surplus of low-budget cheese, but unfortunately, this film is the least innovative and the most problematic of the three. Its attitudes towards homosexuality are less-than-comforting and it lacks the deconstructionist airs of its predecessors. It’s disappointingly unambitious, but it would be remiss of me to not include the full trilogy on this list, so strong-willed fans of campy slashers might still be intrigued.
23. A Night to Dismember (1983) dir. Doris Wishman
Written: Judith J. Kushner
Starring: Samantha Fox.
A Night to Dismember was directed by Doris Wishman when she was 71 years old, and it’s worth sharing that she reportedly once said, “After I die, I will be making movies in hell!” and I think that’s just incredible. The whole reason Wishman got into filmmaking in the first place was because in 1957, a New York Appeals court ruled that films containing nudity were legal to exhibit in the state. She started making sexsploitation and other nudie films immediately after the ruling at age 45 and gradually became the most active woman filmmaker (not just in the underground, but period) during the 60s and 70s – so remember, it’s never too late to follow your dreams! When Halloween came out in 1979, Wishman was inspired once again, this time to cash in on the slasher craze. The result is A Night to Dismember, which depicts a particularly gory night in a sleepy Midwest town as recounted by a police detective’s voiceover, but “depict” is a strong word. A Night to Dismember was plagued by a nightmarish production – wherein one disgruntled employee just destroyed half the footage partway through – and the result is a slipshod train wreck. It looks like a slasher movie that someone broke into a thousand pieces and tried to put back together with scotch tape, but that’s the reason why it and Wishman are so well-loved.
24. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) dir. Rachel Talalay
Written: Michael de Luca.
Starring: Robert Englund, Lisa Zane, Shon Greenblatt, and Lezlie Deane.
CWs: Abuse, rape, CSA, incest, self-harm.
Rachel Talalay had a razor-clawed hand in every single one of the original Nightmare on Elm Street movies*, but it wasn’t until its sixth and final installment – Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare – that she finally got to sit in the director’s chair. After the disappointing fourth and fifth films sentenced the franchise to death, Talalay’s conclusion is a silly but satisfying entry with some of the most creative “nightmares” of all. There’s also a ton of oddball cameos, like Rosanne Barr, Alice Cooper, and even Johnny “Blood-Geyser Bed” Depp. If you love A Nightmare on Elm Street but haven’t seen or heard of the sequels, Freddy’s Dead comes recommended. It’s also nice for a woman to have had a leading position in such a high-profile franchise, if even it was just to see it out – but Talalay lays Freddy to rest with a bang. (*I count 1-6 as the “originals,” and New Nightmare and Freddy vs Jason exist in limbo between Freddy’s Dead and the 2010 remake.)
25. Organ (1996) dir. Kei Fujiwara
Written: Kei Fujiwara.
Starring: Kei Fujiwara and Kimihiko Hasegawa.
CW: Surgical horror (vivisection!), body horror, an absolutely incredible amount of gore.
Even in a world where Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1992 a.k.a. Dead Alive), Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1981), and David Cronenberg’s entire filmography exist, Kei Fujiwara’s Organ may be the most disgusting film ever made. Not content to just maim and mutilate, Kei Fujiwara’s unflinching eye films the bursting of boils, the slicing of cysts, and various sores galore. Set against a surgical black market in Japan’s seedy underbelly, Organ is an double-barreled blast to the senses, but it’s also a masterpiece of body horror, but also, clearly not for everyone. Your ability to tolerate this film will depend on your ability to tolerate “ooze” in all of its abject forms.
26. Office Killer (1997) dir. Cindy Sherman
Written: Cindy Sherman, Elise MacArthur, and Tom Kalin.
Starring: Carol Kane, Molly Ringwald, and Jeanne Tripplehorn.
CWs: Homophobia, incest, CSA.
A splendid throwback to late 90s technophobia and corporate paranoia, Office Killer is about a copywriter (Carol Kane) whose job is converted into an at-home position when her office downsizes. Suddenly very lonely and stuck full-time with her overbearing mother, it’s after accidentally killing one of her co-workers that she realizes murder is a very cathartic way to cope. Playing against the type she famously played in When a Stranger Calls (1972), the killer Carol Kane carries the film on her mousy shoulders and stands out like a light amidst the deliberately drab settings. Office Killer was the first film of co-writer/director Cindy Sherman, who is more widely known in art circles for her portrait photography.
27. American Psycho (2000) dir. Mary Harron
Written: Bret Easton Ellis, Mary Harron, and Guinevere Turner.
Starring: Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon, Chloë Sevigny, Justin Theroux, and Josh Lucas.
CWs: Ableism, cannibalism, sexism, racism, homophobia, animal death.
Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel has been a polarizing picture since its premiere. Depicting the heartless hedonism of yuppies through the story of blasé killer Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), its exuberant gore and excessive machismo is like a sick caricature of moneyed masculinity. Gratuitous and overabundant, Harron’s cup runneth over with a bitter flavor of cynicism that certain viewers may not be able to stomach. However, it’s considered one of the best horror films of the new millennium, and highly recommended for its sharp direction and strong performances (and did you know there’s a sequel starring Mila Kunis?).
28. XX (2017) dir. Roxanne Benjamin, Sofia Carrillo, Karyn Kusama, St. Vincent, and Jovanka Vuckovic
Written: Roxanne Benjamin, Jack Ketchum, Jovanka Vuckovic.
XX is the much-anticipated woman-led anthology film slated for wide release on February 17. Boasting an impressive list of experienced and eclectic directors (yes, that St. Vincent), it has already built a reputation for itself in the festival circuit and is poised to kick down the doors of the general public with its frightening feminine fury. If you really want to support women in horror who are working in the genre today, here’s your chance.
See you in theaters!