Women in Horror Month

Wicked Wednesday: Suicide by Sunlight (2019)

Diversity is a beautiful thing. It’s an essential thing if we are to create better art. And I’m so grateful there is a growing space for women in the horror industry. Without those spaces, we wouldn’t have interesting and new stories like Nikyatu Jusu’s Suicide By Sunlight.

Suicide By  Sunlight plays with similar tropes, but brings new light (ha ha) to these traditional tales. The film was made in collaboration with THROUGH HER LENS: The Tribeca Chanel Women’s Filmmaker Program, which provides funding and support up-and-coming women directors in the US. The film was made with an entirely woman camera department, and quite honestly, it benefits the short.

Valentina (Natalie Paul) is a nurse – she’s also a vampire. But being a black woman, her melanin protects her from the sunlight. But her condition keeps her separated from her daughters, whom she’s estranged from. She’s desperate to see, but it kept at a distance by the girls’ father.

She tries to suppress her bloodlust, but at a club one night, she ends up picking more than one target to feast on. But not all of her instincts are primal. She decides to ‘help’ one of young, sick patients who is nearly the end of his life.

Afterwards, she visits her daughters while their father is out. She surprises them and their new mother figure. Valentina is a monster (in a traditional sense), but Paul plays her with such sensitivity and vulnerability. Even within 15 minutes, you begin to care deeply about her character.

Jusu has said that her influences are Octavia Butler and West African mythology. These rich influences seep through her story. It’s a story about a vampire, but it’s also a story about marginalisation. Suicide By Sunlight is a prime example of a short film that will leave you wanting more: wanting more story, more background, more of the world, more of the characters. Not knowing what happens next is almost painful, but in a way only a good short film can satisfy.

Wicked Wednesday: Catcalls (2020)

Here are the facts: being a woman can be dangerous. We’re more likely to be killed by our partners – certainly a startling amount face domestic or sexual violence. If you’re a woman of colour or a trans woman, those statistics look even more dire.

But girls are made of tough stuff. Which is why I love the final girl trope so much: pure resilience and power. Seeing the power to fight back on screen.

Which is why I think so many female directors are doing so many interesting things in the horror genre of late. (But let’s face it – we always have.) In the short film by Irish director and writer Kate Dolan, we see the final girl trope in a very twisted (and brilliant) light.

Paul is a creep. He cruises around harassing women. One night, he reveals himself to a girl on the street with her friend. But he quickly realises he messed with the wrong ladies.

When he gets home, his exhausted wife tells him that she’s about to head out the door for an extra shift. Whether or not she’s oblivious to her husband’s, er, extra-curricular activities is unclear.

Before Paul’s wife can even leave the house, a girl arrives at their door screaming for help. Paul immediately recognises the frantic girl as the one he sexually harassed earlier in the night. He panics and leaves the room, but when he returns to where the women were, he’s unable to find them.

Paul soon realises that he’s in danger, and there’s a monster eating his wife. He attempts to make it to his car, but is attacked by a woman-cat-like creature in the night.

Catcalls has a premise that reminds me of films like The Craft and Ginger Snaps. They’re films full of great female characters with loads of personality. Our monster ladies in Catcalls pack a memorable punch without have hardly any lines at all. Each withering look conveys every feeling I have ever had while harassed by men.

But this short film also reminds me of the rape-revenge genre: we’re rooting for the people dishing out the violent justice.

For being less than 10 minutes, Catcalls really resonated with me. I’m dying to tell my friends about it – to find strength in it. We might not be able to turn into cat women ourselves, but it’s certainly enjoyable to pretend that we can.

Really, I’m ready for this to be a full-length feature. Give me an hour and a half of these ladies extracting revenge. We need it.

Wicked Wednesday: The Ranger (2018)

Quick disclaimer here: I’m really not a fan of movies with “punks” as main characters. Most of the time, things come across more cringey than believable. Most of the time it’s because these roles are in the hands of people clearly with no concept of what they’re meant to be emulating. There are very few films with actors that can pull the whole punk thing off. Green Room being a stellar stand out.

So when I began watching Jenn Wexler’s The Ranger, I was pretty impressed with the actors straight off the bat. And with a fairly likeable (or rather unlikeable) cast, it’s pretty easy to get invested in a slasher movie – even if it’s premise is slightly whacky. I mean, we have Jason in space, why can’t we have a child-obsessed park ranger who thinks he’s a wolf? (Or…at least that’s what I think happened here).

Chelsea and her friends are a group of punk ass kids. When the show they’re at gets busted by the police, the kids flee. Only Chelsea is cornered in an alley by a cop. Chelsea’s boyfriend, Garth, stabs the cop. The two flee in a van as the cop dies.

The gang of friends begin to make their way to Chelsea’s uncle’s old cabin in the mountains. They bump into a park ranger on the way, who warns them about hunting season. Being the little punks they are, they taunt the man before heading into the woods.

When they arrive at Chelsea’s uncle’s cabin, she admits to her friends that her uncle was actually murdered. And slowly, as she spends time in the solace of nature, begins to remember what happened the day of her uncle’s death. Namely, that the ranger she’d seen earlier was the man who took her under his wing after her uncle died.

Interrupting her thoughts, though, are her wild friends. They spray paint the trees, dig through her uncle’s things, start fires. But soon they face the consequences once one of them gets shot in the neck.

It’s a pretty quick escalation as things take a dark turn for the kids. As they try to help their injured friend, Amber, they quickly get picked off themselves by (shock) the Ranger. Though he seems to have a soft spot for Chelsea, and she’s about to discover why.

The Ranger has a pretty solid premise set up, but it begins to fall to pieces once it attempts to explain Chelsea’s story and her relationship with the Ranger. If you’re able to put up with some half-baked nonsense, this is actually a really fun little slasher. There’s plenty of blood and some real-squirm inducing gore. But it’s done with a sick and twisted sense of humour that I really appreciated.

Lead actress Chloë Levine is really compelling, and she’s got a pretty tough cast of characters to fight against. Jeremy Holm is, as ever, buckets full of fun as the ranger.

If the film had added on another five or ten minutes to give the viewers a bit more explanation, I think The Ranger would be a big hit. It’s still worth watching, even if it does induce a bit of head scratching.

A beginner’s viewing guide for Women in Horror Month

It’s (finally) February, which means Women in Horror Month is here again! This month-long initiative works encourages people to learn and shout about women working in horror industries. Check of their official website to learn more about the various celebrations happening this month and their own database.

Women are an integral part of the history of horror. We’re writing the classics, taking centre stage in the films, filling spots in special FX classrooms. And what women also do is direct one hell of a movie.

I love the horror community. As far as genre fans go, we’re the best (I’m not biased – just 100% spewing facts). But we always need to work on being more inclusive – especially for fans just getting into the genre. Whether you’re old or young: everyone has got to start somewhere, right?

So here is my list of must-watch films for anyone wanting to dip their toes into the genre, and want to start at a place in command of a woman.

This is by no means a comprehensive list! Keep in mind I still have a lot to learn and watch! I’m greatly biased towards older films, and most (if not all) of the films on this list are created by white, English-speaking women in the West. My goal is to watch more diversely moving forward – so send me all the recommendations!

1. Slumber Party Massacre trilogy (1982, 1987, 1990): written by Rita Mae Brown (1), Deborah Brock (2), Sally Mattison (3) and directed by Amy Holden Jones (1), Deborah Brock (2), Catherine Cyran (3)

This slasher trilogy is (to the best of my knowledge) the only horror series to be entirely directed and written by women. While the title might fill some people’s imaginations with -ehm- fantasties, this series is actually much smarter than that.

While the first one comes off as a straight-forward slasher on the surface, it’s filled with plenty of symbolism. That’s only heightened in the second one – making it the smartest of the three entries.

Fans of the series are constantly bickering about which of the three is best. It’s ridiculous because part two is clearly the superior. This is the hill I’m willing to die on!

2. The Wind (2018): written by Teresa Sutherland and directed by Emma Tammi

One of the most frequently-visited themes in horror is motherhood. The Wind shows what happens when that journey is taken from someone who desperately desires it. It’s a story of betrayal, paranoia and loss. All set with the backdrop of some gorgeous, lonely American frontier.

This is a stunning, tragically over-looked period piece. If you like The Witch, you’ll like this because this is MUCH better.

3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992): written by Joss Whedon, directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui

You know the story: she’s the chosen one – born to kill vampires. Only this early incarnation of Buffy Summers looks a little bit different. It’s brighter, more colourful and contains a whole lot of Luke Perry. So, yes, this is definitely the least “horror” of the films on this list. But there are vampires – so it counts, dammit!

It’s very well known to any fan of the Buffy TV show that the script was basically wrestled from Whedon’s hands and mangled. That being said, I quite adore the early 90s valley girl vibe. Kristy Swanson’s Buffy is very likeable and silly, but determined and smart.

“Buffy, you’re not like other girls.”
“Yes I am.”

This is one of my absolute favourite movies of all time. And while I adore the TV show, I still prefer the movie. Does that make me the only member of this club? Probably. But add this to the growing list of hills I’m going to die on.

4. The Babadook (2014): written and directed by Jennifer Kent

Another entry about motherhood and grief – only this time we face a picture book villain who is wrecking havoc on a mother’s mind.

Australian director Jennifer Kent has created a masterpiece of modern horror. One that has joined the ranks of classics we will remember for decades to come. Kent deftly handles of themes of loss while building a great sense of terror while telling the story of a widow and her young son.

The Babadook himself is now a cultural icon. One who has left out little realm of horror and entered into the mainstream. You might not have seen his movie, but you’ll certainly be familiar with his white face and top hat.

5. American Psycho (2000): written by Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner (adapted from the novel by Bret Easton Ellis), directed by Mary Harron

The pièce de résistance. The big kahuna. The movie that consistently shocks people (for some reason) when they learn it was directed by a woman.

American Psycho is about greedy, narcissistic men. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a banker, obsessed with himself, money, women and the desire to kill. As his thirst for success grows, he goes to further lengths to achieve his desires.

It’s absolutely classic for a reason. Every bit of this film is weird, wonderful and absolutely twisted.

UPDATE FEB 8: I forgot to mention Mirror, Mirror – it is excellent. Watch it now!!

Wicked Wednesday: “Into the Drowning Deep” by Mira Grant (2017)

It’s the final week of Women in Horror Month. That’s a whole decade of celebrating the women who contribute to the horror genre.

For the last couple years, I’ve solely focused on contributions to film. But this week I thought I’d chat about the novel Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant.

Grant, who also published under her real name, Seanan McGuire, is a bit of a legend. She’s won the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer. But she’s also won a Nebula, Hugo and Locus for her work in fantasy. Her Wayward Children series is impossibly popular on the likes of BookTube. Her names are ones I know, but somehow have never gotten around to reading. Until this month, that is.

Into the Drowning Deep is a horror novel set on a ship. But think more Jaws than Ghost Ship with added killer mermaid-like beasts. It’s about what happens when we discover that we are the prey, not the predators. “Did we really think we were the apex predators of the world?”

In 2015, the entertainment company Imagine sent a ship full of scientists and film crew to the Mariana Trench to discover mermaids. The company, headed by its very own Roger Corman-figure (weird how he keeps coming up this month), sought its next biggest hit. Imagine Entertainment thrived on cheaply-made sci fi and horror movies in the past, but found more recent success with a string of “mockmentary”-style horror films chasing mythical beasts.

But unfortunately the crew of the Atargatis, they found what they were looking for.

The boat is eventually found empty. All that Imagine Entertainment have to go on is the found footage of the incidents on the beach. When some of that footage was leaked to the public, a debate started about whether or not the footage was faked or real.

Years later in 2022, a second team sets sail to find out the entire truth of the doomed Atargatis. On board the Melusine is scientist Tory, the sister of one of the crew lost on the Atargatis. She and several other scientists seek the biggest scientific discovery of their generation.

But like the voyage before theirs, the mermaids quickly find the soft, tasty humans waiting on their tin can. When the mermaids start to attack, it’s up to Tory and both the scientists and its crew to band together and discover how to save themselves.

Much of Into the Drowning Deep focuses on the science much of the passengers are working on. But between those scenes, Grant fills the pages with eerie, slasher-movie-like scenes with the “mermaids”. The suspense is built victim by victim, growing a sense of dread and impending doom.

This is a pretty long book, and it was certainly a struggle to get through the first 200 pages or so (this comes to pretty heft 484 pages). Horror is best when it’s snappy and succinct. I found the moments of action incredibly readable. And the gore was splendidly described. I love a bit of face loss!

Like a slasher movie, you can pick out which characters are going to die first and which one’s you’d like to see have a painful death. Many of the characters do silly things, as horror characters often do. It prompts a similar reaction to when their screen counterparts do idiotic things on screen.

I personally didn’t enjoy much of the science nonsense. And unfortunately for me, it was about 80% of this book. It’s too much detail and long-winded scenes reiterating previous ones. Accord to many reviews, the science is very inaccurate anyway.

But regardless of the accuracy, Grant still manages to drive home her message: “Humans had the potential for good, although they did not always make the effort.” We are shown the what-cold-be’s of global warming and the destruction caused by changing the once-balanced ecosystem of the ocean. In fairness, killer mermaids are probably what we deserve.

In the Drowning Deep is certainly an unsettling book at the best of times. I’m certainly not in any rush to get on a cruise ship. If there’s something waiting in the ocean for us, I’d like for it to keep waiting, please.

Wicked Wednesday: Searching for Isabelle (2018)

February marks not only the celebration of Women in Horror Month, but also Black History Month in the US. At a quick glance, horror as a genre looks pretty white. But some of the most key players in horror’s history are black – whether that be actors or directors. So really, I think it’s a great time to celebrate both women and directors of colour this month. Diversity in writers, directors and actors allow us to have richer (and fresher) storytelling and that benefit everyone.

But, as it turns out, it’s 1.) there are disproportionately few women making horror films, and 2.) it’s even more difficult to find horror movies director by women of colour. But thanks to Ashlee Blackwell’s informative, funny and inspirational Twitter and website, I found an incredible amount of information about up-and-coming directors. I was pleased to bits to see the selection of short films that there were to choose from. (Also, if you haven’t seen Horror Noire on Shudder yet, which Blackwell co-wrote, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?)

Searching for Isabelle immediately appealed to me because who doesn’t love a good story of magic, strength and the defeat of creepy men?

Isabelle is a young woman with a seemingly normal life. But when she’s caught and locked up in a man’s basement, she soon discovers that she has the power to project herself in the outside world and communicate with her friends.

With her in the room is another captive, Lucy. They seek comfort and strength in each other, but Lucy is reaching her breaking point. Lucy is taken first, leaving Isabelle alone.

Isabelle reaches her friends one more time to get their help. And upon speaking to them, she hears a harsh truth she already knew: the media is only covering Lucy’s disappearance. Isabelle is seemingly all but forgotten in the basement cell.

But it’s ultimately the work of Isabelle and her friends that gain her freedom. It’s Isabelle’s inner magic (strength) that helps her survive when no other victim does.

Horror written in the frame of real-life terror is often some of the most effective. For many women, being prey to a predator is one of the most prevalent fears we have. But this short film is more than just that. In Searching for Isabelle, writer and director Stephanie Jeter taps into the reality of the disproportionate media coverage of missing people based on gender, age and skin colour. She drives straight home to her point without being tedious.

But Jeter also makes a beautiful movie. It has a dream-like quality that plays with the horror of Isabelle and Lucy’s situation really well. And for a short film, it certainly tells its story in an impactful way. She’s certainly a director and writer to await more from.

Wicked Wednesday: Humanoids From the Deep aka Monster (1980)

Have you ever wondered what The Creature From the Black Lagoon would be like if it had more violence and rape? Well, this is the movie to answer all your questions!

This Corman-produced movie was directed by Barbara Peeters, a director and write who worked with Corman on multiple occasions. And while I thought this might share some similarities to the tongue-in-cheek Slumber Party Massacre series (most of which was also produced by Corman), I couldn’t possibly be any more wrong.

One day, a group of fishermen catch something in their nets. But before they can reel it in, the captain’s son goes overboard and is killed by whatever lurks in the water. While the others try to save him, the boat blows up from a freak accident.

Witness to the explosion is Jim, another fisherman from the small Californian town. While perplexed about the probability of the accident, he’s quickly thrown another unsusual event: all of the dogs in the town are killed bar one, one belonging to a local “Indian”.

The following night, during some sort of town party, scientist Dr Susan Drake arrives. She’s boasted at being excellent at boosting healthy salmon populations, a promise that the fishermen all love. But the party is crashed by the “Indian”, Johnny Eagle, carrying his dead dog. A dog was killed in retribution for…surviving? Johnny threatens Canco owner Hank, saying he will file a suit to get back Native land back from the company, thus stopping the company’s plans to open a cannery.

Meanwhile, many of the young couples around town begin to get attacked by strange gill monsters from the deep. The boys are killed and the girls are raped (and presumably also killed). Johnny’s home is also attacked, by both the gill monsters and the human monsters from Canco.

Johnny is enlisted by Jim and Dr Susan to help them investigate the attack site. Susan tells the men that whatever did the attack is amphibious. They’re attacked by the monsters themselves later on after discovering the body of a girl in a cave.

But the monster is killed in the attack, allowing the scientists to study the monster’s corpse. Dr Susan realises that the mutations are caused by the growth hormone used in Canco’s experiments. The hormone didn’t only cause the creatures to mutate, but to develop human-like functions (which I guess includes rape).

The group soon realise that the creatures will attack at the town’s Salmon Festival that night. When they arrive, they find the place in chaos. Fishmen are killing men. Fishmen are attacking women.

Jim and Dr Susan work together to pour gasoline into the bay. They set it on fire in hopes of cutting off the monsters’ escape.

While their plan seemingly works, they have forgotten about the girl who survived. At some point in the future, Dr Susan helps her through the delivery of a…humanoid-from-the-deep baby.

And if that isn’t enough to make you throw up in your mouth.

Humanoids from the Deep is an oddly disjointed film, which is mostly due to its history. After initial filming, a second unit shot the rape scenes to make the film more exciting per Corman’s request. They are incredibly out of place, mostly due to a dramatic shift in style. They’re also pretty gross.

I like a good monster movie. Roger Corman made many of them. I enjoy many exploitation films. Roger Corman had a hand in making many of those too. But this rape subplot couldn’t feel more pointless and shoe-horned in. It actually makes the ending of the film incredibly sinister. And not in a fun way.

I’m not going to pretend without this tasteless addition this movie would be great. It’s still really weird. The campiness is fun (sometimes), but most of it falls flat, making less “so bad it’s good” and more just…bad. But while many of movies leave a lasting impression on me, I can’t wait to forget this one.