Despite being a fiction genre that was arguably created by a woman, and having many successful female novelists building on and compounding the success of Frankenstein in her wake, as a film genre horror remains a male-dominated field. Although many strides have been made in recent years to bring more balance from female, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized creators in the industry, horror struggles to reach any kind of parity across genders.
However, that doesn’t mean femme voices are absent in horror, and while many female-identifying directors have become more prominent in recent years (as of this writing a female director/co-writer, Nia DaCosta, holds the record as the first film *ever* to debut as a box office number one by a black, female director), as many folks know, films start with the writer. And in the horror genre those writers are woefully under-represented. Still, we’ve compiled a list of some prominent horror films written and co-written by women – including a few classics that may surprise you.
This adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel on the horrors of yuppie culture was written by two women: Guinevere Turner and Mary Harron (who also directed). While many initially questioned Harron’s ability to handle the material, the movie has now been praised for over twenty years for its balance of darkly comedic, sharp writing and bloody, psychologically-intriguing thrills.
Following the success of Diablo Cody’s award-winning debut feature, Juno, it was unexpected that the next movie written by the Oscar winner would be a dark comedy about possession and high school revenge on bullies. Initially pushed as a straight horror film that failed to ‘thrill’ audiences, it has found new life and appreciation in the last few years, applauding Cody’s use of humor to tackle the horrors of high school in an inventive way.
Writer-Director Jennifer Kent’s first feature captured audiences for tackling classic horror tropes like a haunted house/item, childhood fears, and concerned parents in a way that both concerned and garnered sympathy from single mothers. Not to mention crafting an unforgettable apparition who has been claimed by the LGBTQ+ community as one of their own.
Julie Delpy is most well-known to US audiences as an actress, but has been stretching her skills to writing and directing for over a decade. (You’ll find that most of the women on this list are multi-hyphenates.) This complex period piece examines the famous European countess who has inspired many a vampire tale over the centuries.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
The debut feature of writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour was a hit during its festival run, with many applauding its use of stark, black and white cinematography to tell a modern vampire tale. Adding to its complexity is the young female vampire who carefully chooses her victims based on their wrongdoings.
The Frighteners (co-written)
Before co-writing one of the greatest cinematic epics in history, Fran Walsh collaborated with Peter Jackson on a quirky ghost flick about a man who sees dead people, but not in The Sixth Sense way. The Frighteners walks the line between horror and comedy, ultimately delivering a creepy romp with some genuine thrills.
Near Dark (co-written)
Director and co-writer Kathryn Bigelow (also the first woman to win an Academy Award, BAFTA, and DGA Award for Directing), brought love and vampires together in a way that both embraced and shied away from traditional vampire tropes. Its gritty grimness with a solid emotional core helped assert Bigelow’s directorial style.
Fear Street trilogy (co-written)
Co-writer and director Leigh Janiak wrote and directed her feature debut, the atmospheric couple-in-the-woods horror Honeymoon, and after some additional tv writing was tapped to helm the Fear Street trilogy for Netflix, following an evil presence in a small town over 300+ years, combining three classic eras of horror: contemporary, 1970s summer camp, and pre-1700s America.
Candyman (2021) (co-written)
As mentioned previously, co-writer and director Nia DaCosta is currently the only black, female director to ever top opening weekend box office in the US. This sequel to the 1992 film addresses issues of gentrification, profiling, and success for black people in America while still delivering on the unsettling imagery and chills.
Fright Night (2011)
Horror is perhaps laden with remakes more than any other genre. As times and worldviews evolve, some classics are due for reimaginings to reflect more progressive times. This update of the 1985 romp penned by Marti Noxon keeps the slightly campy fun of the original while giving some real stakes (no pun intended) to hero Charley’s quest to take down the vampire living next door.
Halloween (1978) (co-written)
Several of celebrated horror filmmaking legend John Carpenter’s early films were co-written by producer Debra Hill. So she also gets props from us for Halloween II and The Fog. And here we are over forty years later, and the epic battle between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode is still ongoing.
Suspiria (1977) (co-written)
A cult classic, this atmospheric piece was conceptualized and co-written by Daria Nicolodi who had already been a professional actress for near a decade when she shared this tale based on her grandmother’s stories of an arts school with director and co-writer Dario Argento.
King Kong (1933) (co-written)
A vintage classic that walks the lines of adventure, drama, and horror, it’s not often acknowledged that first time screenwriter Ruth Rose was part of the writing team for one of the original creature features going on 90 years of sequels and reimaginings.