The 13th Floor

6 Legendary Female Horror Directors from Film History

Female directors are finally on the rise in the horror industry, though there is still a long way to go. As we applaud the talented works of contemporary filmmakers like Jennifer Kent, Karyn Kusama, and Jen and Sylvia Soska, let’s also take a moment to look back at some of the ladies who have laid the groundwork for this important and long-overdue movement.

Maya Deren (1917-1961)(Cover Photo)

Maya Deren in her film AT LAND

If you’ve ever taken a film theory or film history class, then there is a good chance you’re familiar with Maya Deren. But sadly, even though she is considered to be historically important, most general film fans haven’t heard of her. Maya worked as an experimental and avant-garde filmmaker during the 40s and 50s. She also studied and worked as a choreographer, so her films all contain a sharp focus on body movements and theatricality that is quite unique. Additionally, Maya was fascinated with Voodoo, working it into some of her later pictures. Her most well-known film (and possibly her most haunting) is MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON, a strange cinematic puzzle where a woman meets several versions of herself in alternate, yet intersecting timelines. Many contemporary filmmakers cite Maya Deren as one of their key influences, most notably David Lynch. Read a more in-depth analysis of MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON here.


Ida Lupino (1918-1995)

Ida Lupino, source- Wikipedia

Ida began her career as an actress, but had always been fascinated by what was happening on the other side of the camera. She transitioned into directing, and eventually made THE HITCH-HIKER, becoming the first woman to direct a noir film. She went on to to direct a lot of television and also became the only female ever to direct on the original TWILIGHT ZONE show.


Doris Wishman (1912-2002)


I dare to say that few other filmmakers have impacted my career as much as Doris Wishman. When I was a teenage film fan who was grossly aware of the fact that very few women directed in Hollywood, let alone worked on genre films, I then stumbled on Doris. Upon graduating college, Doris began working as a film booker for an exploitation and art-house distributor in New York City. From there, she transitioned into directing sexploitation, exploitation, and even straight-up horror films. Doris’s career spans decades, and though she received little recognition at the time, she has since been rediscovered and heralded as a female pioneer in the industry. Doris fought hard! She fought censorship boards, she fought sexism in the industry (sometimes even shooting under a man’s name), and she wove larger statements about gender politics into many of her films.


Stephanie Rothman


Stephanie helmed several films under the legendary Roger Corman in the 60s and 70s. Her notable movies include STUDENT NURSES, TERMINAL ISLAND, and THE VELVET VAMPIRE. Just this year, Stephanie received the Inspiration Award at the Etheria Film Festival in Los Angeles.


Rachel Talalay


Rachel began her film career in Baltimore as a production assistant on John Waters’s POLYESTER. She soon began working at New Line, eventually becoming the line producer for NIGHTMARE OF ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS and producer on NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER. She then directed FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE, GHOST IN THE MACHINE, and TANK GIRL. Rachel soon found her niche in television and has been flourishing as a TV director for the past several decades.


Jackie Kong


Though horror fans know Jackie’s work quite well, her films and toils deserve larger recognition. Jackie began her directing career in 1983 with THE BEING, and she went on to helm BLOOD DINER in 1987. Jackie’s films became iconic for their mix of dark subject matter with campy humor as well as the heavy use of special effects and gore.


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