Women In Horror Month: Creator, Spectator, & Star – 2019
In celebration of Women in Horror Month, I wanted to take a retrospective look at the women of 2018/early 2019 that have influenced the genre in different ways. Many moons ago (how many is my business) I wrote a dissertation on Women’s role within horror. Its official title was “Women in Horror as Creator, Spectator, and Star” and since writing it I have done what every proud dissertation creator has done…kept it on a pen drive and avoided re-living the trauma of it. However, this feels like the month to dust it off and update my thoughts.
Women are often underrepresented in the Creative Industries and especially in Genre films. So I want to take a moment and appreciate some of the amazing female creatives within the horror genre over the past year.
Let’s start with our creators, those behind the scenes who are filming, writing and producing some of the most visceral, terrifying and intensely smart horrors.
I had the pleasure of watching Aislinn’s first feature-length film The Devil’s Doorway during Grimmfest 2018. It was captivating, expertly shot in 60mm found footage and with amazing sound design. It tells the story of Father Riley and Father Thornton as they are sent to investigate ‘miraculous events’ happening at an Irish home for ‘fallen women’. The terror in this film comes from the reality it is steeped in. Clarke discussed her inspiration for the film and the true events that inspired it in a Q&A after the film which left a deep impression on me.
Clarke has directed three short films prior to this, Childer, The Lighthouse Keepers and Short Sharp Shocks. Alongside directing Clarke wrote (or co-wrote) each film she has created so far. Her stylistic flair and understanding of all the elements needed for a strong story have me hoping to see a lot more from her in the future.
Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid was another viewing at Grimmfest that left me in emotional flux with both tear stains and a wistful grin on my face. Telling a beautiful fairytale story that was ethereal, haunting and full of societal commentary this film delved into magical-realism with some of the most captivating set design I have ever seen. A triple threat, López wrote directed and produced Tigers Are Not Afraid. On the streets of Mexico, five young orphans must help each other survive a drug cartel. Estrella has been gifted with a magical piece of chalk that grants her 3 wishes but, just like a Monkey Paw, they all come with consequences.
López has directed two short thriller films prior to this, Quimera and Tan callando. She has also written and directed numerous feature-length films and TV series including Todo Mal, Labyrinths of Passion and 600 Miles. Here’s hoping she brings her talent to the horror genre once again.
Cam hit the streaming service Netflix last year and made an incredible impression instantly. Alice is an ambitious camgirl who is working her way to the top of her site until she discovers an exact replica of her has taken over her site and she must fight to gain her identity back. Isa Mazzei is the talented writer behind this modern horror having experienced life as a camgirl herself. This means that Alice as a character is not punished for pursuing a career in sex work, she is not disposable, she is not the ‘whore’ or the ‘slut’ killed in the first act, she is an ambitious and intelligent protagonist. Mazzei plays with cybersecurity, the influencer age and women’s sexuality throughout Cam.
Mazzei has really helped with the representation of women in horror. She has taken a taboo and removed the judgement. Her and Daniel Goldhaber are working with Blumhouse on another horror and I’m already here for it.
The Soska Sisters were a huge influence on my dissertation when I began it and have continued to influence my world of horror as writers, actors, producers, directors, and contributors. They have been in the spotlight this year with both the announcement of their remake of Rabid and their helming of a new Black Widow comic book series which is dark, humorous and gives Nat a real bite. I cannot wait to see what these Twisted Twins bring to the screen with their unique visceral and violent auteur style.
Jen & Sylvia Soska’s contribution to horror is large and imposing, including their debut directorial feature Dead Hooker in a Trunk, body-horror feast American Mary, brutal slasher See No Evil 2 and their segment ‘T is for Torture Porn’ in the ABC’s of Death 2. These two incredible women represent horror as creators, stars, and spectators. They are huge advocates of WiH month and have brought such a light the female creatives in this genre and to that, I salute you!
Long live the 80’s! Anouk Whissell brought one of the tensest and most thrilling horrors to our screens in 2018, co-directing Summer of 84. Playing on the tropes of The Goonies a group of teenage friends spends their summer gathering evidence on a neighbour who they believe to be a serial killer. The nostalgia runs high but it is the pace and reveals within the film that are its real selling point. Summer of 84 takes dark twists and creeps tension up the spine with every viewing.
Whissell has directed numerous shorts including Le Bagman – Profession: Meurtrier, Total Fury, Demonitron: The Sixth Dimension and Red Head Red Dead. She is in pre-production on Turbo Kid 2, following the success of Turbo Kid her first feature-length film. This is definitely a rising name to keep in mind in the future of horror.
A shout out to our Scream Queens, Final Girls and pure Badass ladies who are making us laugh, cry and scream often in equal measure.
Where is this woman’s Oscar?! Toni Collette absolutely blew me away this year with her portrayal of Annie Graham in Hereditary (a film she was also a producer on). Her character was a whirlwind of emotional distress, grief, and insanity and I couldn’t look away from her performance. She followed this with a very different horror role, playing Gretchen in Velvet Buzzsaw, displaying an entirely different side to this talented actress.
Listing Collette’s acting accolades would take the rest of my word count but here are a few of her standouts for me: Lynn Sear: The Sixth Sense, Sheryl Hoover: Little Miss Sunshine, Peggy Robertson: Hitchcock and Sarah: Krampus. Colette is currently working on a murder mystery film Knives Out which ironically also stars the next star on this list…count me in!
Jamie Lee Curtis
One of the original Scream Queens and all-around badass Jamie Lee Curtis has spent 40 years embodying Laurie Strode. This all culminated in Halloween 2018 which saw her return to the screen as the PTSD suffering Strode and remind everyone why she is horror royalty. This performance was outstanding eliciting fear, sympathy, and empathy from an audience eager to see her return. Laurie becomes so much more than the babysitter, she is a warrior, a matriarch and a survivor.
Curtis is a chameleon in her filmography, she has been a Scream Queen, a Comedic Force, and Romantic Dream. From her amazing role as Wanda Gershwitz in A Fish Called Wanda to Helen Tasker in True Lies and of course Laurie Strode in the Halloween Franchise Curtis has been a powerhouse in the acting world. I mean, she even starred in a show named after her legacy, Scream Queens, the woman knows her horror.
A newcomer to the horror family Jessica Rothe has become a favourite in the community very quickly for her portrayal of Tree Gelbman in Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U. Rothe’s big break came from playing Alexis in La La Land and Paige in MTV show Mary + Jane. Before that, she had starred in a few films including two Genre film Parallels and The Preppie Connection.
In this era of smart, unique and strong Final Girls Rothe’s portrayal of Tree is a strong contender for one of the best. Caught in an infinite death loop Tree grows as a person and offers fun, humour, and insanity to a role that could have easily fallen flat or been unlikable in another’s hands. Rothe elevates the Happy Death Day franchise and is definitely one of my favourite Scream Queens of the past few years.
All hail our horror royalty! Lin Shaye is one of the most seasoned female horror stars and, after listening to a few podcast interviews with her, most entertaining and enthralling actresses. So this one starts a little differently as I wasn’t a huge fan of Insidious: The Last Key, however, I am a huge fan of the character Elise so I’m including her here. Throughout the Insidious franchise, Shaye has brought a tender side to the medium while maintaining a strong composure. I cannot get enough of her character and her in general.
Shaye has a strong filmography that includes horror films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Critters, 2001 Maniacs, Alone in the Dark and Ouija. She balances this perfectly with her comedic roles as well, working closely with the Farrelly brothers on films such as Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary proving that this horror great is also a laugh riot.
Can we all take a moment to remember The Haunting of Hill House? What a goddamn show! Of course, my favourite character was Theodora ‘Theo’ Crain portrayed beautifully by Kate Siegel. The strong and yet so delicate character is completely encapsulated by Siegel. I’m a big fan of a woman who shields with sarcasm, especially if it can be as funny and biting as Theo’s.
Siegel’s career began to kick off with TV work such as Ghost Whisperer and Castle and led her into horror when she starred in Oculus. Since then she has starred in other horror films including Ouija: Origin of Evil, Gerald’s Game and Hush which she also wrote. Hush was my first introduction to her and I was enthralled with her performance. The story she created for that film revitalised an old horror trope with creativity and was a tense and exhilarating journey to take. Here’s hoping for some more.
Women don’t like horror! Fuck that! Last year I started writing my little blog and, as all advice tells you to, I made sure I was reading other peoples work and often listening to other opinions (my love of podcasts developed last year also). So here’s my shout out to the women who are representing female love of horror and exploring it from different angles.
Ashlee Blackwell (Horror Noire)
A scholar, a writer, a horror lover and one of the producers behind Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, Blackwell has brought a spotlight to women in horror and the Black experience in horror. Her work has explored new avenues in horror and her take is always fresh and reflective of what has come before. She is the social media manager and marketing coordinator for Ax Wound Film Festival and a contributor to magazines and blogs such as Rue Morgue and Black Girl Nerds. In 2013 she founded the site Graveyard Shift Sisters that is dedicated to exploring the representations, achievements, experiences and creative works of Black women and women of colour in Genre films.
You can find her here: http://www.graveyardshiftsisters.com/
Kimberley Elizabeth (Nightmare on Film Street)
Nightmare on Film Street became one of my favourite horror podcasts in 2018 and that is due to the hosts Kimberley Elizabeth and Jonathan Dehaan. There use of the head to head formula and their open conversations on a wide range of horror films managed to make my long commutes to work much more enjoyable. Since starting in 2016 they have evolved NOFS into a multimedia horror site that includes reviews, thought pieces and their original podcasts. They include numerous female contributors on their site also have grown from strength to strength.
You can find her here: https://nofspodcast.com/
Chelsea Rebecca (Dead Meat)
Dead Meat podcast was another brilliant find for me in 2018, again it’s two hosts Chelsea Rebecca and James A. Janisse revel in their love of horror and let that leak through in every episode. They also produce videos on YouTube including live streams of their podcast and kill counts. Chelsea is a clear horror lover who delves into research on each episode with passion and gusto that makes them so enjoyable to listen to. She is also the co-founder of Practical Folks which involved comedy skits and reaction videos. I highly recommend a subscription to her channels and podcasts.
You can find her here: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/dead-meat-podcast/id1349106563?mt=2
Andrea Subissati & Alexandra West (Faculty of Horror)
The Faculty of Horror had me on a binge spree when I was sent the link for one of their episodes. Co-Hosts Andrea Subissati and Alexandra West are intelligent, passionate and conversational hosts who talking classic and contemporary horror from all angles, including a feminist perspective. I have recently read through West’s amazing book Films of New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity and I’m now craving more. I already have her second book The 1990s Teen Horror Cycle: Final Girls and New Hollywood Formula and Subissati’s book When There’s No More Room In Hell: The Sociology Of The Living Dead in my Amazon basket waiting for payday! Subissati is also the executive editor of Rue Morgue magazine and co-curator of The Black Museum. These horror academics know their stuff and I haven’t stopped listening since I discovered them.
In the cheesiest way…Us! Every person out there who promotes women in horror in all capacities! Horror has some of the most beautiful and passionate fans whose enthusiasm seeps, oozes and spurts at every event I have attended! It’s a palpable feeling to be part of the horror community and events like Women in Horror Month make sure that we are sending that appreciation to all!
Next week I’m going to be attending a WIHM event by The Final Girls called We are the Weirdos. The event is hosted by Grimmfest and I have attached a link to the website for more information. Let’s Hear it for the Girls!