Sunday, March 8 was International Women’s Day. We thought we’d celebrate by perusing the very best horror directed by women. It’s a much stronger list than many people realize and it includes two of the finest genre works of last year.
5. Near Dark (1987)
Back in ’87, future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow brought a new take on a familiar theme to the screen. A mixture of vampire and western tropes, Near Dark succeeds mostly on the charisma of the cast. The always welcome Lance Henricksen is campy fun as the badass leader of a vampire family, while the beguiling Mae (Jenny Wright) – nomadic white trash vampire beauty – draws you in with a performance that’s vulnerable and slightly menacing.
The most fun, though, is Bill Paxton as the truest psychopath among the group looking to initiate a new member. All the film’s minor flaws are forgotten when you can watch an unhinged Paxton terrorize a barful of rednecks. Woo hoo!
4. American Mary (2012)
A masterful Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) stars as med student Mary Mason, a bright and eerily dedicated future surgeon who’s having some trouble paying the bills. She falls in with an unusual crowd, develops some skills, and becomes a person you want to keep on your good side.
Writer/director/twins Jen and Sylvia Soska offer a screenplay that is as savvy as they come, clean and unpretentious but informed by gender politics and changing paradigms. Were it not for all those amputations and mutilations, this wouldn’t be a horror film at all. It’s a bit like a noir turned inside out, where we share the point of view of the raven haired dame who’s nothin’ but trouble. It’s a unique and refreshing approach that pays off.
3. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour has made the world’s first Iranian vampire movie, and though she borrows liberally and lovingly from a wide array of inspirations, the film she’s crafted is undeniably, peculiarly her own. The film is simply, hauntingly gorgeous.
Set in Bad Town, a city depleted of life – tidy yet nearly vacant – Girl haunts the shadowy, lonesome fringes of civilization. The time is spent with singular individuals – a prostitute (a world-wearied and magnificent Mozhan Marno), a drug addicted father (Marshall Manesh), a street urchin (Milad Eghbali), a pimp (Dominic Rains), and a rich girl (Rome Shadanloo). Two people weave in among these players – the handsome Arash (Arash Marandi), and a lonesome vampire (Sheila Vand).
Vand’s Girl is the constant question mark, and that – along with the eerie, sometimes playful camerawork – is what makes the film unshakably memorable. I promise the image of a vampire on a skateboard will stay with you.
2. The Babadook (2014)
You’re exhausted – just bone-deep tired – and for the umpteenth night in a row your son refuses to sleep. He’s terrified, inconsolable. You check under the bed, you check in the closet, you read a book together – no luck. You let him choose the next book to read, and he hands you a pop-up you don’t recognize: The Babadook. Pretty soon, your son isn’t the only one afraid of what’s in the shadows.
Like a fairy tale or nursery rhyme, simplicity and a child’s logic can be all you need for terror. Writer/director Jennifer Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman.
The film’s subtext sits so close to the surface that it threatens to burst through. Though that does at times weaken the fantasy, it gives the film a terrifying urgency. In the subtext there is a primal horror, a taboo rarely visited in film and certainly never examined with such sympathy. Indeed, the compassion in the film may be the element that makes it so very unsettling.
1. American Psycho (2000)
American Psycho represents the sleekest, most confident black comedy – perhaps ever. Director Mary Harron trimmed Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, giving it unerring focus. More importantly, the film soars due to Christian Bale’s utterly astonishing performance as narcissist, psychopath, and Huey Lewis fan Patrick Bateman.
There’s an elegant exaggeration to the satire afoot. Bateman is a slick, sleek Wall Street toady, pompous one minute because of his smart business cards and quick entrance into posh NYC eateries, cowed the next when a colleague whips out better cards and shorter wait times. The more glamour and flash on the outside, the more pronounced the abyss on the inside. What else can he do but turn to bloody, merciless slaughter? It’s a cry for help, really.
Harron’s send up of the soulless Reagan era is breathtakingly handled, from the set decoration to the soundtrack, but the film works as well it does because of the lunatic genius of Bale’s work. Volatile, soulless, misogynistic and insane and yet somehow empathetic. It is wild, brilliant work that marked a talent preparing for big things.