February is when studios start rolling out under-the-radar horror films. These are films that they didn’t expect to make money with more favorable release dates. It may be because they consider the movie good but too challenging for audiences. It could be that the film’s cult or indie nature limits its audience appeal. And sometimes it’s just because they don’t think a movie’s very good.
Holiday and awards show boosts start to fizzle in February, and it’s historically been too early for the event movies spring and summer bring. Of course, this isn’t a typical February, some awards shows have delayed announcements, and you can’t expand award films to audiences that are staying home during a pandemic. That said, it doesn’t look like the scheduling of genre trends has changed too much.
“Black Panther” and “Deadpool” have challenged February’s box office history a bit in recent years, but they’re still the only February releases with $100 million weekends. With a dearth of event movies, February often belongs to romantic comedies due to Valentine’s Day, and movies featuring Black actors due to Black History Month. There’s another conversation to be had about squeezing movies by Black artists into a single month as opposed to both featuring them now and scheduling major ones across the calendar. Studios can abuse the intention of Black History Month as an excuse to relegate excellent movies by Black artists into a month where audiences don’t often go to see movies, but that’s a whole other article.
Underneath these two bigger factors, there’s an annual dumping of horror films where studios take whatever they have left over and throw it at the wall to see what sticks. This starts in February and really ramps up into March. It doesn’t define all horror in these months, since there’s a consistent interest in counter-programming rom-coms around Valentine’s, but it does describe a lot of it. The thing is, there are always gems in that heap, there are cult movies that break big, and there’s a lot of fun stuff that may not be great but will be memorable.
What about franchise horror? It’s usually saved for September and October – the school year and Halloween. Those are films that studios are willing to devote real marketing to even if they’re no more likely to be good.
This is the long way of saying there’s a flush of horror movies coming on nearly every service. The vast majority are directed by men, but three of the four movies directed by women this week are horror – and very different kinds.
Firely Lane (Netflix)
showrunner Maggie Friedman
mostly directed by women
“Firefly Lane” stars Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke as lifelong friends maneuvering through midlife careers. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Kristin Hannah.
Showrunner Maggie Friedman created and wrote “Eastwick” and “Witches of East End”.
Six of the 10 episodes are directed by women: two apiece for Vanessa Parise, Lee Rose, and Anne Wheeler.
You can watch “Firefly Lane” on Netflix with a subscription.
directed by Sarah Gavron
The director of “Suffragette” returns with a film about two abandoned children. A homeless teenage girl nicknamed Rocks takes care of her younger brother.
Aside from “Suffragette”, Gavron has directed “Brick Lane”.
The film is written by Theresa Ikoku and Claire Wilson. This is also a movie where nearly every major department is run by women. Helene Louvart is cinematographer, Maya Maffioli edits the film, Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch composes the music. Production design is by Alice Normington, set decoration by Sophie Phillips, costume design by Ruka Johnson, and Amy de Rees is makeup supervisor.
Composition and cinematography have been particularly difficult fields for women to break into on a consistent basis, and recognition is rare. In the entire history of the Oscars, there have only been 10 nominations for women for musical scores. That’s an even worse statistic than it seems – for the vast majority of Academy Awards history, there have been two categories for score. It only became the norm to nominate five films a year instead of 10 in 1999.
But wait, there’s more! It used to be the norm for 20 or 30 films to be nominated each year. I believe the record was 34 nominations in 1944, just outpacing the 33 nominations of 1945. And only 10 ever have gone to women.
Want to be even more pissed off? There has only been one nomination of a woman for Best Cinematography. One. They’ve been giving that award out since 1929.
You can watch “Rocks” on Netflix with a subscription.
12 Hour Shift (Hulu)
directed by Brea Grant
Mandy is a nurse who needs to pay for her drug addiction. Her patients don’t need all their organs, do they? Her cousin Regina serves as a courier to an organ trafficker, but when she loses a harvested kidney, he tells Regina he’ll take hers if she doesn’t get him another. What follows is a dark comedy of errors where Regina keeps on killing in order to provide a kidney that works and Mandy keeps cleaning up after her.
Mandy is played by Angela Bettis, and this is her territory. She’s been a generational star in indie horror and horror-comedy. She’s best known for Lucky McKee films like “May” and Tobe Hooper’s “Toolbox Murders”. There’s a sort of interstitial, experimental space underneath mainstream horror that still exists separate from B-horror where she’s become a legend.
Writer-director Brea Grant might be more familiar as an actress from “Heroes” and “Dexter”. This is her second feature-length film as director and third as writer. She also directs on the sci-fi series “Pandora”.
You can watch “12 Hour Shift” on Hulu with a subscription.
A Nightmare Wakes (Shudder)
directed by Nora Unkel
This period piece adapts Mary Shelley’s creation of “Frankenstein” into a horror movie of its own. In “A Nightmare Wakes”, Shelley’s horrors arise around her as hallucinations, but these in turn inspire her to question the abusive relationships she’s asked to endure.
This is the first feature from writer-director Nora Unkel. She’s directed and produced on a number of short horror films in recent years.
You can watch “A Nightmare Wakes” on Shudder with a subscription.
co-directed by Rebecca Matthews
An MMA fighter finds herself fighting demons for her son’s life and her own soul. Luckily, it turns out demons have their own MMA tournament. That’s convenient. She’ll have to fight all manner of creatures in order to be declared victor.
Rebecca Matthews has produced and directed on a large number of…let’s be real and call them discount horror films. That’s not a knock; they have an audience and they reliably make money. She has nine scheduled to arrive just this year, including “Bats: The Awakening” and “Cannibal Troll”. There’s obviously a market for these films. I mean, the big budget versions of this kind of shtick make up most of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career, and that was enough for people to go, “That qualifies him for governor, right?” I digress. The point is, these films can be fun in their own way. They’re often great as a party movie to riff on (but please keep social distancing), or as something familiar to put on in the background.
See where to rent “HellKat”.
Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.
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