The position of women within horror movies has historically been controversial at best. Debates have ranged across a wide variety of feminist topics observing the fetishisation of women’s bodies and their dismemberment – whether or not it’s justified to refer to such scenes as ‘fetishisation’ and if the final girl survivor trope makes it all okay. Recently the conversation turned to behind the camera, when producer Jason Blum gave an interview with Polygon defending his studio’s lack of a female-directed horror film, by stating that “there are not a lot of female directors period, and even less who are inclined to do horror”.
Blum later apologised, pointing to efforts he had made to connect with directors such as Jennifer Kent and Leigh Janiak. However, it still begs the question of what propelled this to be his go-to response. Especially, when any horror fan worth their salt should see red flags upon reading it, given the number of great horror films helmed by female directors, from classics like American Psycho and the Hitch-Hiker, to more contemporary masterpieces like Raw and American Mary. It’s not like women are scared out of doing horror, although it’s interesting that the conversation specifies the genre, given that the industry’s lack of gender diversity doesn’t.
In fact, a Directors UK study from 2016 discovered that, despite making up 50.1% of film students and 49.4% of new entrants into the industry, women only go on to direct 27.2% of shorts, 21.7% of publicly funded films, 16.1% of low budget projects, and 3.3% of big budget features. And further reading shows little disparity between the sexes over the course of film education, suggesting that an explanation for the lack of female directors leans towards the unconscious biases amongst those with hiring power within the industry.
At the same time, it’s still easy to see why this studio bias may be applied to horror given that it’s generally seen as a boy’s club. Not helping matters is the aforementioned final girl survivor, commonly used to combat such accusations, often being a virgin whose primary survival tool is not having a pesky sex drive. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying formulaic scary movies, it’s troubling when film circles don’t recognise how things they love can be problematic, and don’t promote a more diverse range of artists.
It is true that there has been some progress, given that many successful horror films this year such as Hereditary, A Quiet Place, The Nun, and Halloween feature strong and un-objectified female characters battling a range of dark adversities. However, the problem still stands that all of these examples were directed by men.
We can create a bigger impact simply by choosing to buy and promote more films helmed by women. It’s the only way to propel studios to pull out the director’s chair for more women, which they’re unjustly refusing to do right now. Because if Rosemary’s Baby is the most appraised horror film directly centred around women’s issues, when it’s directed by Roman ‘can’t return to the U.S without facing sentencing for statutory rape’ Polanski, that is not a good sign.