We love seeing female screenwriters working in horror. Films like Cam and Ginger Snaps were beautifully woven by women who brought their experiences and insight into their work, and there are several incredible female directors who play double-duty as screenwriter.
But we rarely see recognition for the female co-writers who worked behind the scenes to flesh out the scripts of classic horror films. These women are often overshadowed, but they deserve every bit of recognition for their efforts.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate these women and their excellent work.
Of course, everyone knows that the late, great Debra Hill was instrumental to John Carpenter’s oeuvre. Hill served as a producer on dozens of films (including Clue and The Dead Zone), but she also worked with Carpenter to co-write Halloween, Halloween II, The Fog, and Escape From L.A.
Halloween was such a wild success that it spawned several sequels and reboots, qualifying it as one of the most popular franchises in the horror genre.
King Kong (1933)
In 1926, Ruth Rose was working as the official historian on a New York Zoological Society expedition to the Galapagos Islands. She went on to co-write the epic, iconic feature starring the great Fay Wray and a giant ape.
Two writers had initially worked on the script; one – Edgar Wallace – died before he was able to make any significant changes. The other, James Ashmore Creelman, wrote a script that was supposedly bogged down by slow pacing and flowery dialogue.
Rose was given the script to rework it; she cut out long, unimportant scenes to make the film more fast-paced, tweaked the characters, and can be credited with writing such memorable lines as “Oh, no. It wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast”.
Dario Argento’s eye candy classic was co-written with actress Daria Nicolodi (Shock, Tenebre, Deep Red). She’s said that the film – which was her first screenwriting credit – was something that she wrote for her partner, Argento.
In an interview with GoreZone Magazine UK, Nicolodi shared that Suspiria was inspired by a story her grandmother told her about her experience at an acting academy — she discovered that the staff were “teaching arts, but also black magic”.
Dead Alive (1992)
This classic Kiwi splatter-gorefest had a great team behind the screams. Dead Alive (aka Braindead) was co-written by Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson, and his Oscar-winning long-term partner, Fran Walsh.
Walsh has collaborated with Jackson on all of his scripts and also wrote some of the original music for The Lord of the Rings (for which she won a “Best Original Song” Oscar to go along with her “Best Adapted Screenplay” and “Best Picture” wins).
Joan Torres co-wrote the Saturn award-winning Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream with Raymond Koenig. As noted in Shudder’s Horror Noire documentary, Blacula is one of the most iconic Blaxploitation films of the 70s; it also holds the honor of being one of the highest-grossing films of 1972.
At its initial release, critics praised the fast-paced and genuinely chilling script by Torres and Koenig that deftly touched on topics of slave trade and racism. Blacula has a strong, trailblazing place in Black Horror history and in the hearts of genre fans.
Honorable mention: The Birds (1963)
Though the screenplay itself was written by Evan Hunter, Hitchcock’s classic avian horror was based on a novella by Daphne Du Maurier (her stories also inspired Rebecca and Don’t Look Now). We all know about the brilliant literary minds of Anne Rice, Shirley Jackson, and Mary Shelley, but Du Maurier rarely gets credited for crafting such a terrible tale of terror.