A Brief Herstory of Horror

scared-audienceHorror stories have been around for a very long time. Whether folk tales in their original creepy form, gothic novels from the 18th and 19th centuries or modern scary movies, people love stories that give them goosebumps, get their heart pumping, make them gasp and scream.

Early Female Horror Storytellers

Women have been a significant part of this storytelling tradition right from the start, including the original gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe and, of course, the grandmother of horror, Mary Shelley and her novel Frankenstein. In the early days of motion pictures, Shelley’s story was one of the first to be adapted to the silver screen by Edison Studios (and in fact has inspired well over 60 feature films since then). Also in those early days, the first female director, French filmmaker Alison Guy, had a real taste for horror. One of her first movies was about Esmerelda and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and she often told stories about vampires and other supernatural and fantastical creatures.

frankenstein.coverThe Evolution of Screen Terror

When movies started to be profitable, women were pushed out from behind the camera, but the tradition of frightening film audiences continued to grow – from the classic black and white monster movies of the ‘30s to the scary sci-fi films of the post WWII era and horror teenpics in the ‘50s. By the 1960s, filmmaking technology was making movies even scarier and bloodier and women’s role in horror started to become entrenched as the classic victim (as in 1960’s Psycho). In the ‘70s and ‘80s slasher films were standard fare with their sexualized bloody violence featuring young girls in various states of distress and undress.

psychoWhile the gore of slasher films continued, it found less financial success in the 1990s. Advances in special effects and computer technology made the sci-fi and fantasy genres more and more of a focus for audiences during this decade. Remakes of classic movies like Carrie and new and old horror franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream continued to feed the audiences of the late ‘90s and early 2000s. The use of psychology instead of gore to frighten is also something seen more often and zombies, so many zombies (and werewolves and vampires, but did I mention the zombies?).

Inspiring Female Driven Horror

There have been a few women who have been able to break through the horror glass ceiling and create some very interesting work (all of which are worth checking out if you are looking for inspiration for your horror script submission). Examples of these include: Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow whose first feature was the campy vampire western Near Dark (1987), Antonia Bird’s dark cannibal horror satire Ravenous (1999), Jackie Kong’s horror movies from the 1980s like The Being (1983) and Blood Diner (1987). Here in Canada you can look for inspiration in Holly Dale’s Blood and Donuts (1995), which she used to pivot her career from documentary work to television, Mary Haron’s seminal American Psycho (2000) and the Soska twins American Mary (2012). And we, of course, have our own mistresses of horror as contest mentors in Rachel Talalay who started her directing career with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) and Karen Lam who has written and directed multiple short films, features (and now a web series) in the horror genre, including the evocatively chilling Evangeline (2013).

evangelineReclaiming Our Voice

Throughout all of these developments, however, men were still seen as the primary audience for horror and were making these stories as producers, writers, and directors. Women were rarely given empowering roles on the screen and even more rarely were they given the opportunity to drive female focussed horror stories. This is beginning to change. New technology and lower cost of production have allowed more and more filmmakers to tell stories that had not been made in the traditional Hollywood model. This is especially true for horror and women, and any combination of the two. More and more, we are seeing women band together with an amazing array of festivals, organizations and events to celebrate and support each other in creating horror movies. Not the least of which is this new initiative, the #FromOurDarkSide script concept contest. Hopefully, this has given you some scary food for thought and inspiration. We look forward to you giving us chills and thrills and helping us reclaim the female voice and image in horror.

By Annelise Larson, Contest Mentor & Digital Media & Marketing Strategist, Veria.ca

With special thanks for the inspiration and information provided by these articles:





1 thought on “A Brief Herstory of Horror

  1. Pingback: A Brief Herstory of Women in Sci-Fi & Fantasy | Women in Film and Television Vancouver Blog

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