Shaping Horror–Women Writers and Filmmakers–-2015 Edition

Rather than focusing on actresses in horror, or the term “Scream Queens”, I wanted to take a look at the past and present of women in horror–in creator capacities–particularly writers and directors.

The Soska Sisters (Sylvia and Jen) of Twisted Twins Productions have been the subject of much praise and buzz for the stylish and intriguing “American Mary” (featuring Katharine Isabelle) and previously brought us “Dead Hooker in a Trunk”.  The twins have also achieved a certain iconic status for their enthusiastic, dynamic personalities, touring and promoting “American Mary” at many festivals and cons.  They’ve spearheaded the Massive Blood Drive PSA shorts, recently released slasher sequel “See No Evil 2”, and have further cemented their relationship with WWE Films by directing the prison action thriller “Vendetta.”  They are also attached to helm a new adaptation of comic “Painkiller Jane.”

One of the most buzzed about horror films of 2014 was “The Babadook”, directed by Jennifer Kent.  The realm of indie horror has proven to be a welcoming landscape for strong, young female filmmakers such as the Soskas, and other exciting new voices including  Axelle Carolyn (“Tales of Halloween”), Tammi Sutton (“Sutures” “Killjoy 2”, the upcoming “Whispers”), Elisabeth Fies and Brenda Fies (“The Commune”), Shannon Lark and Lori Bowen (co-directors of “I Am Monster”), Tara Alexis, Tonjia Atomic, Jennifer Campbell, Michelle Fatale, Tara Anaise (“Dark Mountain”), Amy Lynn Best, Tara Cardinal, Nicole Kruex,  Devanny Pinn, Ama Lea (the Annie Leibovitz of horror icon photography), Yelena Sabel, Elske McCain (“Jessicka Rabid”), Jill Sixx Gevargizian (“Call Girl” and “The Stylist”), Peilin Kuo (“Prescott Place”), Izzy Lee (“Postpartum”), Briony Kidd, Emilie Flory, Lia Scott Price (also a novelist), Reyna Young, Staci Layne Wilson (of Dread Central and “Fetish Factory”), Heidi Lee Douglas, Lou Simon, and Jovanka Vuckovic (former editor of Rue Morgue and director of shorts including “The Captured Bird”).  Vuckovic will be helming the upcoming Clive Barker adaptation “Jacqueline Ess” featuring Lena Headey.

A new generation of women horror writers and directors are getting widespread geographic representation–from Chicagoans Claire “Fluff” Llewellyn and actress/writers of “What they Say” Heather Dorff and Kelsey Zukowski (“Within These Walls”, also “Words Like Knives” actress/writer);  Canadians Karen Lam (“Evangeline”, “Doll Parts”), Nadine L’Esperance (“No Pets Allowed”), Maude Michaud (Dys-), Manda Manuel, Jovanka Vuckovic, Jessica Cameron (“Truth or Dare”, “Mania”), Gigi Saul Guerrero, and the Soskas;  southern filmmakers Emily Hagins (“My Sucky Teen Romance”), Goldie Fatale, Andie Noir, Shauna Tackett, and Blair Richardson (‘Kitty, Kitty”); and those covering horror across the pond: Germany’s Cat la Belle (ThrillandKill.com) and Scotland’s Jennifer Cooper (Musings of a Morleysaurus/Jennifer’s Bodies).

Bloggers, journalists, commentators, and film site reviewers such as Rebekah McKendry (of Fangoria and and director of several shorts), Heidi Honeycutt (Planetfury.com, PlanetEtheria.com, and Viscera and Etheria Film Fests), Hannah Neurotica (Ax Wound: Gender and the Horror Genre, Women in Horror Month), Stacie Ponder (Final Girl), Molly Celaschi and Kelsey Zukowski (each previously of Horror Yearbook), Dai Green (HorrorNews.net and several podcasts), Jennifer Cooper, Cat la Belle, B.J. Colangelo (Day of the Woman), Kate Davis (HorrorHound), Heather Wixson, Camilla Jackson, Erin Lashley (Deep Red Rum), Rebekah Herzberg, Mallory O’Meara, Dolls of Despair, The Horror Honeys, Stephanie Wytovich, and story writer Nicole Sixx each bring great passion, knowledge of horror/suspense, and nostalgia for a life’s memories of growing up on horror and genre fare to their perspectives on the industry and its product.

Podcasts have grown in popularity with Char Hardin (Charred Remains), Francy Weatherman, Rebekah Herzberg, Nicole Sixx, Karen Zombora, Claire Connolly (Midnight Spookshow), and Rebekah McKendry’s Killer POV among those.  Writers Alexandra West (of blog Scare Tactic, ShockTillYouDrop, and Rue Morgue)  and Andrea “Hellbat” Subissati (examining horror from a cultural and sociology perspective) host The Faculty of Horror podcast.

Video segment webisodes, such as writer Jill Killington’s video review blog “Jill Kill”, have led to a new generation of horror hostesses that are more review and interview focused.  Actress Bianca Barnett Kyne completed a first season of WTF (Watch These Films) reviews.  Filmmaker Blair Richardson assumes the horror hostess persona of “Blair Bathory” for “Fear Haus”–an online short film spook-showcase.

Love her or hate her, Stephenie Meyer, along with J.K. Rowling, have been the two most influential females in popular culture in the last decade.  Female fiction writers, especially in the horror and fantasy genres, wield undeniable influence.  From Meyer’s “Twilight” series (with screenplays by Melissa Rosenberg) to Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse/”True Blood” source material,  Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” epics, L.J. (Lisa Jane) Smith, whose series “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Secret Circle” have both been translated  to TV; Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy novels, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, Nancy A. Collins, Poppy Z. Brite, Christine Feehan, and the grand vampire and witch matriarch, Anne Rice.  Also of note are Lois Duncan’s suspense tales and S.D. (Stephani Danelle) Perry’s Resident Evil novels, which run more closely to the video game source material.  And much of modern horror fiction is owed to the horror classics of Shirley Jackson (“The Haunting” and “The Lottery”) and Mary Shelley (“Frankenstein”).

On the film side, the late Debra Hill was a pioneer for female producers and writers, scripting and producing with John Carpenter the classic films “Halloween” (and “Halloween II”) and “The Fog”.  Carpenter’s films became a strong source for female talent–Debra Hill, strong heroines onscreen, and utilizing the late, great composer Shirley Walker.  Sandy King Carpenter has been a frequent collaborator and producing partner with husband John.

Mary Lambert helmed “Pet Sematary” (and its sequel) and was the first female director of a Syfy Channel Original Movie.  Rachel Talalay directed “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare”, “Ghost in the Machine”, Lori Petty in “Tank Girl”, and episodes of tv series “The Dead Zone”.  Kathryn Bigelow directed influential cult fave “Near Dark” before being honored as the first female Best Director by the Academy for “The Hurt Locker”. Diablo Cody, Oscar Original Screenplay winner for “Juno”, brought life to “Jennifer’s Body” (directed by Karyn Kusama, who also did the strong femme-centric films “Girlfight” and “Aeon Flux”).  Kimberly Pierce tackled the 2013 “Carrie” remake and Katt Shea (the thriller “Poison Ivy” w/Drew Barrymore) took on the 1999 original Carrie follow-up, “The Rage: Carrie 2”.  The late Antonia Bird directed the cannibal horror “Ravenous” and Mary Harron helmed and co-scripted “American Psycho” with Guinevere Turner (writer of “Bloodrayne”).

Prolific screenwriter Jace Anderson (“Mortuary”, “The Toolbox Murders”, “Mother of Tears”), writer/director Jennifer Lynch (“Chained”, “Surveillance”, “Boxing Helena”) and producers Marianne Maddalena (frequent collaborator with Wes Craven), Julie Corman, and Gale Anne Hurd (from “Aliens”, “The Terminator”, to “The Walking Dead”) also deserve mention.  Further on the scripting side, are Cassandra Peterson (writer/improviser of alter ego icon Elvira), Jane Goldman (“The Woman in Black”), Lisa Hughes, and Jennifer Derwingson (“Z Nation”).  Jane Jensen (the Gabriel Knight series) and Roberta Williams (“Phantasmagoria”) were pioneers in interactive adventure game storytelling.

Julie Plec has become one of the most sought after and powerful writer/producer/creators of supernatural TV– co-creating “The Vampire Diaries” for the CW, along with its successful spin-off “The Originals”, and the psychic powered teens drama “The Tomorrow People”.

And genre fave actresses are moving behind the camera, with Danielle Harris directing horror satire “Among Friends” (scripted by cast member Alyssa Lobit, writer of the upcoming “Mindless”).  Kristina Klebe enrolled in film school at NYU and wrote and directed her first short “As Human as Animal”.  Angela Bettis directed frequent collaborator Lucky McKee in “Roman” and worked on a segment for “The ABC’s of Death”.  Asia Argento has followed in her father Dario’s footsteps, working extensively as a director, which has become her primary career focus.  Axelle Carolyn wrote and directed both the short “The Halloween Kid” and the feature mystery “Soulmate.”  Debbie Rochon has helmed the horror allegory “Model Hunger.”  Jennifer Blanc-Biehn has moved into the role of frequent producer and directed “The Girl” and “The Night Visitor”.  Lynn Lowry, Jessica Cameron, and Devanny Pinn have also taken the reigns as director.

At least half the directors I have worked with in film and theater have been female.  They have come into directing from a variety of creative backgrounds: acting, choreography, cinematography, playwriting, and teaching drama.  As a producer, I will work to champion original, strong, and unique female voices and aid in bringing their visions to the screen.  And I hope to see more female crew entering the industry as editors, DP’s, and composers (like The Lazarus Effect’s Sarah Schachner).  Many female journalists, festival programmers, photographers, painters, illustrators, costume designers, make-up artists (many appearing on “Face Off”), and gore/creature-FX creators, currently express their creativity in the horror industry.  And that’s not to mention the number of women creators in comics/graphic novels and television.  So, while wrongly held preconceived notions like “Women can’t be funny…or women can’t do horror” may linger in some minds, a new generation of rising female talent will hopefully erode the last traces of such incorrectly held views.

–Cory Graham@2011, updated 2015

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