Horror Show: Women Horror Directors to Watch
Have you ever wanted the power to be invisible? It’s easy—try being a woman and launching a career in the horror industry. Voila!
It’s sad but true—if you’re a woman, the odds of you making it in the horror biz are bleak. Other than being a Vh1 “scream queen” or one of the “bloody babes of the month” in a lad mag, women are completely completely overlooked as horror writers, directors, producers, F/X artists, and even, in many cases, as fans.
The slogan “Discovering the New Blood of Horror and Honoring the Masters” belongs to SCREAMFEST, a career-launching horror-film festival founded in 2001. The festival recently announced its 2010 slate of 18 films—not one of which was written or directed by a woman. Google ‘female horror directors’ and you’ll find headlines like “Do women and horror films mix?” and message boards full of fanboys proclaiming there are no women making horror, and if they did the results probably wouldn’t be very scary. But what about American Psycho (directed by Mary Harron)? What about Pet Cemetery (Mary Lambert)? What about The Slumber Party Massacre (Amy Jones)?
The conventional wisdom is that women don’t want to be scared—or enjoy scary movies only insofar as the terror gives them the opportunity to snuggle up to male companions, as Entertainment Weekly pointed out in a 2009 piece. This strikes me as bizarre. Women bleed, after all, regularly and sometimes very heavily. We push human beings out of our bodies. We deal with constant threats to our safety. So it only makes sense that women can portray fear, terror, and gore onscreen in ways only those who’ve experiences it up close and personal can.
But I can’t blame the general public for the assumption that women just don’t make horror films. How would anyone really know, when the films that do exist are routinely ignored and diminished? This disturbing and irresponsible invisibility is why I founded Women in Horror Recognition Month in February 2010—a tradition that will hopefully continue until we are respected, visible, and included as both creators and fans. And right now, I’d like to introduce you to five women among the many who are working hard to be seen and heard in this scarily sexist genre.
JEN AND SYLVIA SOSKA
The most recent issue of my feminist horror zine, Ax Wound, features an interview with horror bigwig Eli Roth. Since he’s a man near the top of the horror-industry food chain, I figured he might have some insight into female horror filmmakers working under the radar. And he delivered: “You should check out the Soska sisters, who made a film called Dead Hooker in a Trunk. It’s really violent and the stunts are superb. They are Canadian twin sisters who made a feature that they wrote, produced, directed, and starred in and it’s fantastic!” And let me tell you, Roth was right.
As little girls, Jen & Sylvia started acting and modeling, but as they got older they realized that identical female twins have limited options when it comes to film roles. As Sylvia puts it, “The roles got more and more repetitive—hot twin bikini girls, hot twin sorority girls, hot twin aliens…” With a desire to have more options, the multitalented sisters decided to venture into stunt work. And as they learned how to kick ass, they also jumped into launching Twisted Twins Productions and writing, producing, directing, and starring in their first feature.
The 2009 film follows twin sisters Badass and Geek, along with their friends Junkie and Goody Two-Shoes. As you might guess, Badass and Junkie have different interests than Geek and her Bible-thumping love interest Goody Two-Shoes. But it’s not long before all four of them have one major thing in common: There’s a dead hooker in their trunk, and nobody knows how she got there. With skilled actors, amazing F/X work, and love for the genre written all over it, DHIAT has screened in the US, UK, and Canada, racking up festival awards. Join their to bring their Dead Hooker to a theater near you.
Elisabeth Fies didn’t start out a horror fanatic. As a little girl, her nightmares were so horrific she felt horror movies were probably best avoided. It wasn’t until she was in her twenties and struggling with depression that Fies found solace in the genre—and grew into an intense storyteller with the ability to simultaneously make you cringe and be awe-inspired.
Her debut feature, 2009’s The Commune, is a true piece of feminist art that’s been an Official Selection at over a dozen film festivals. The story follows a teenage girl whose father gains custody of her and relocates to a creepy commune with sinister plans. The exploration of female sexuality, sexual abuse, groupthink, and family entangle in a narrative of horror and tragedy best summed up by the film’s tagline: “Every Girl’s Worst Fear.”
Aside from working hard to get her own work seen by a larger audience, Fies is driven to support and promote the work of other women in the industry. In 2010, she founded L.A.’s BLEEDFEST in order to showcases horror features written and directed by women. (One of the three inaugural selections was the Soska twins’ Dead Hooker In a Trunk.) Add The Commune to your Netflix queue now, and bookmark Fies’s blog—all this month, she’ll be featuring female-made horror films.
AMY LYNN BEST
In 2004 Amy Lynn Best helped launch Pretty/Scary, the first online hub for female horror fans. (It’s now run by co-founder Heidi Martinuzzi under the name Fangirltastic.) With no formal film training, Best learned by observing, asking questions, and engaging with technical skills like grip work and line producing on short low budget films.
With a dedication to supporting and furthering the goals of indie filmmakers like herself, Best co-founded Happy Cloud Pictures with her friend Bill Homan, along with her husband, horror writer/director Mike Watt. And in 2003, she made her directorial debut with the sorority-house slasher Severe Injuries.
Between working in front and behind the camera, Best has more than a dozen films under her belt. Recently, I watched Splatter Movie: The Directors Cut (2008), which Best directed and coproduced. The film follows a group of filmmakers shooting their latest horror movie. Unfortunately, a member of the crew is picking them off one by one. The film is a great commentary on women's roles in horror, but the ending—I won’t spoil it—is one that only a person fed up with the true invisibility of women in the industry could have concocted. Aside from co-producing and directing, Best also stars in the film, as director Amy Lee Parker. Even spoofing herself, Best’s portrayal of a film set run by a strong woman is inspiring to female would-be horror directors.
Visit Amy’s website and check out more of her work, including Were-Grrl and Spicy Sister Slumber Party, a documentary featuring B-movie actresses discussing their work.
TIFFANY D. JACKSON
At age five, Tiffany Jackson was more likely to be watching Friday the 13th at her grandmother’s house than playing with toys and puzzles. Viewing slasher films at such a young age inspired Jackson’s vivid imagination, and by age 14 she was writing her first horror script. She made her first film at 17. For her senior thesis at Howard University, Jackson pulled together all her friends, as well as her baby brother for “a babysitter slasher movie” that she made using her dad’s camera and the school’s dated video-editing equipment.
Most recently Jackson wrote and directed The Field Trip, a Blair Witch–like chiller in which six Harlem high-school classmates are sent, by way of punishment for delinquency, to a haunted trail. The film recently screened at the Martha’a Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF).
If it’s hard to get recognition as a female horror filmmaker, as an African American female horror filmmaker, the obstacles are multilayered. Says Jackson, “Looking back, my most serious projects were all horror/suspense films. It's just the genre I always felt I belonged to. Being a black filmmaker, you get a lot of pressure to make “poignant” films. But that's never been my passion. [Horror] is not an easy genre to belong to. But if I'm weird, I'll be [weird and] proud.”
Currently, Jackson is in postproduction on a web series called So I Married A Vampire, which she describes on her website as “The Office meets True Blood.” When asked in the Sept 2010 issue of XI Magazine to give advice to other young women wanting to make films, she responded: “Just pick up a camera and start shooting. Don’t worry about the particulars. If you have an idea, find the camera, find the people who are just like you, and just do it.”
Remember, Bitch readers: Since this is part of the Horror Show series, whoever leaves the best comment gets a shiny copy of The Exorcist on DVD! Be sure to register before you comment so you can claim your prize—if you dare!
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