In a special Halloween edition of Female Filmmakers, we profile four notable directors that have successfully dabbled in the mad and macabre.
David Cronenberg was in talks to helm a movie adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial 1991 novel American Psycho before the job went to former music journalist turned filmmaker Mary Harron.
Co-writing the screenplay with Guinevere Turner, Harron not only brought a vital female perspective to the story of misogynistic and murderous investment banker Patrick Bateman, but also heightened the dark satire lurking beneath the book’s grisly atrocities. She also fought for Christian Bale in the lead role, after the studio insisted on Edward Norton.
“I began to see American Psychoas a scenario of female terror, with Patrick Bateman as, quite literally, the date from hell,” she wrote in The New York Times at the time of the film’s release.
Harron’s breakout film was the 1996 indie hit I Shot Andy Warhol, and her other credits as director include The Notorious Bettie Page (2005) and a return to the horror genre in 2011 with vampire film The Moth Diaries. She has also worked in television, helming episodes of Big Love and Six Feet Under.
THE SOSKA SISTERS
Canadian twins Jen and Sylvia Soska grew up reading Stephen King novels and watching R-rated horror movies, so naturally they began working in the genre as adults, starting with the self-funded film school project Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009), in which they also starred.
The ‘Twisted Twins’ sophomore feature American Mary (2014) – set in the underground world of body modification – put them on horror fans’ radars, with critics noting the feminist conviction amidst the gore. The title is intended as a tribute to fellow female filmmaker Mary Harron, who made American Psycho.
The Soskas have also contributed to horror anthology The ABCs of Death 2 (2014), directed WWE-produced slasher sequel See No Evil 2 (2014), and have just completed a remake of David Cronenberg’s body horror classic Rabid.
On their status as women in horror, the twins have said: “We simply want to make good films. It shouldn’t matter whether we are male or female. A woman’s work shouldn’t be graded more generously than that of a man.”
A prolific director of music videos for the likes of Madonna, Eurythmics and Janet Jackson, Mary Lambert made her feature debut in 1987 with the indie drama Siesta, and followed it two years later with an adaptation of one of Stephen King’s darkest novels, Pet Sematary– a production originally attached to George A. Romero.
With King being a big fan of The Ramones, Lambert’s connections within the music industry led to the band performing the film’s title track.
Lambert’s involvement was a rare instance of an ‘80s horror film being directed by a woman, and the strong focus on the family aspect of the story can certainly be attributed to having a female filmmaker onboard.
Pet Sematary was successful enough to spawn a sequel, the disappointing Pet Sematary Two (1992), which Lambert also directed. Having since returned to music videos and working in television, her only other foray into horror (of sorts) was the Syfy Channel schlocker Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011).
Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent graduated from NIDA with a degree in Performing Arts, choosing acting at the time because she was unaware that women could direct films. Wanting to avoid film school, she apprenticed to Lars von Trier on his 2003 film Dogville to learn the craft of filmmaking.
Kent made her feature debut in 2014 with the superb Australian horror film The Babadook (an expansion of her 2005 short film Monster), which melded a supernatural boogeyman to a mother’s mental breakdown with disturbing effect. The film even gave The Exorcist director William Friedkin the creeps.
“Women love watching scary films,” noted Kent in an interview with The Washington Post. “It’s been proven, and they’ve done all the tests. The demographics are half men, half women. And we know fear. It’s not like we can’t explore the subject.”
According to Kent, the idea for The Babadook came from a friend and single mother whose son was traumatised by a nightmare figure. “What if this was real, on some level? So I made Monsterabout that idea, but I couldn’t leave it alone. It kept coming back to me, and that led to The Babadook.”
Her second feature, the period thriller The Nightingale (2018), recently received the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.