Most of us can name at least one horror movie moment that shook us to our core. For me, it’s an early scene from The Ring, when a mother (Lindsay Frost) finds her daughter (Amber Tamblyn) — having watched the “killer videotape” exactly one week prior — horrifically unrecognizable; her face twisted and paralyzed in a scream. The moment left me facing my own biggest fear: The idea that without warning, something so horrible and shocking could happen to someone you loved. The mother’s horror was suddenly mine.
The visceral nature of horror allows audiences to identify and empathize with the genre’s protagonists. In recent years, horror films that explore the interior lives of mothers, wives, and women coming-of-age have become some of the most unsettling. With only 31% of films having a woman protagonist, according to a 2018 report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, the more movies that prioritize a woman’s story — and give audiences a reason to care about her — the better.
2014’s The Babadook, written and directed by Jennifer Kent, unpacks the parenting struggles of a grief-stricken mother. Gigi Saul Guerrero’s Into the Dark installment Culture Shock dives into the stark, often horrific reality of a woman attempting to cross the United States-Mexico border. CAM, written by Isa Mazzei — who appears in this article — is a deeply empathetic (and terrifying) take on what happens when a sex worker no longer has control over her image. Gone is the “final girl” trope. In its place are stories of the unique, and often terrifying struggles of womanhood.
To create horror is to have a passion for it — and you can’t create work that touches other people if you’re not aware of the things that once terrified you. The actors, writers, directors, and other women involved in creating the projects that scare you have moments from horror movies they, too, can’t get out of their head. In a series of interviews conducted over the phone, in person, and via email, Refinery29 spoke to women giving new life to the classic genre about the films that scared them most growing up, and why.
You may discover your next favorite film — or the a moment so frightening it keeps you up at night.