Women in Horror Month

Wicked Wednesday: XX (2017)

I’ve been wanting to watch XX since I first read the festival hype around it last year. But I was a good blogger and persevered and saved this baby for Women in Horror Month. Needless to say, there was a lot of anticipation here.

Unfortunately, I have to say that this wasn’t worth waiting for.

XX is an anthology film directed by Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clarke, Jovanka Vuckovic, and Karyn Kusama with Sofia Carrillo directing the framing story.

The Box

The first segment was directed by Vuckovic, whose short film The Captured Bird I watched for last year’s Women in Horror Month. And really, she’s made great strides. Her shots were great and the cast was charming. Unlike The Captured Bird, though, this short was based off a short story by the late horror writer Jack Ketchum.

“The Box” begins when a woman’s son takes a peek at the inside of a stranger’s Christmas present. After seeing what was inside, the boy stops eating. His sister follows suit within the week. And when his concerned father asks him what’s wrong, the father also begins to starve himself. One by one, the woman’s family starve to death, leaving her alone to endless search for the man and his box.

It’s a haunting story, but ultimately, it’s a little too open-ended to feel satisfying. It’s a pretty tricky thing to get right with a short film. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much mystery. Perhaps it works for the more philosophical of us, but I personally felt that it didn’t dig enough.

The Birthday Party

This quirky short was filled with plenty of kitsch charm. Directed by Clark, and co-written with Benjamin, “The Birthday Party” begins with a mother getting ready for her daughter’s birthday party. She’s determined to make perfect, but her plans are derailed when she finds her husband dead in his study.

Not wanting to spoil the party, the mother hides her husband’s corpse in a panda bear suit bought off a party performer. And while the guests look on, the dead body is accidentally knocked into the cake. And when the panda head is removed, the guests (including the children) all see the corpse beneath.

It’s a cute piece, but again doesn’t explain enough of its imagery. Shelia Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) plays the nosy nanny dressed in stark black. It certainly looks good, but there isn’t enough of her character to make sense of it.

The performances from Vand and Melanie Lynskey are great, but I don’t think enough development was really given to either. If this short meant to make a statement, it missed it. If it was trying to be cartoonish, it didn’t go far enough. But Clark’s style was certainly cute enough to make me want to watch more of her future work (even if short went weirdly music video-like half-way through).

Don’t Fall

“Don’t Fall” is easily the weakest of the four shorts. It’s unimaginative and sloppy. Four kids go out into the desert and camp in a protected land. An ancient evil awakes and possesses one of the girls. She kills the friends off one by one. With really basic creature design.

I’m not sure Benjamin was trying to do with this. Unless I missed something subtle, I didn’t understand why she made something so cliche. The girl who becomes possessed is made fun of by her friends. So I don’t know? Push a bitch too far and she’ll get possessed?

Bonus points for Angela Trimbur. She’s hilarious in The Good Place.

Her Only Living Son

The final short was from Karyn Kusama, who showed off here as the writer and director with the most experience. Single mom Cora lives with her son Andy. As his 18th birthday approached, Andy becomes more violent and evil. But most people around them seem to be very forgiving. Many people even tell Cora that they’ll do anything to protect him.

On the night of his 18th, it’s revealed that he is the spawn of Satan. But unwilling to give up her son to the Devil, Cora asks Andy to choose staying with her instead of taking his place with the Devil. When he chooses her, they embrace, and they are crushed to death by an evil force.

Kusama’s story is ultimately about a mother’s determination to keep her children safe and loved. Throughout the short, Cora gets it both right and wrong. She tries to be supportive, but at times becomes invasive. While the story is extreme, in many ways the relationship between mother and son makes it feel very real.

Some of the effects seemed cheap, but it can be easily overlooked as this is by far the strongest story.


With a title like XX, I was expecting some female-driven stories. While women actors feature as mains in every short, the film never seemed too interested in exploring more complex female experiences. Half of the shorts didn’t seem interested in saying anything at all.

Horror is a fantastic genre to use when trying to tell stories from a female perspective. It can be gross and insightful. It’s possible to do it, as seen in work like Anna Biller’s shorts and Jill Gevargizian’s The Stylist. 

That’s not to say that female directors always need to tell a female story, but I do feel slightly misled. When you have the platform and make such a big deal about being all-female, then maybe someone should have had the nerve to try something more gutsy.

I did, though, love the theme of family that ran most of these films. It’s an underrated asset in horror. But none of these films tackled sisterhood or even female friendship to any sort of degree. There’s plenty to explore without doing the same basic tropes (or maybe that was the point?).

This anthology felt like four short films that were made separately. Then someone decided they should throw them all in together as an after thought. As stand-alone films, I think they would almost fare better. But I guess this does defeat the notion that women are stronger together.

I do recommend watching XX. I was more let down by my own unnecessary anticipation and expectations than anything. It’s a good, solid anthology. If only a bit frustrating.

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Wicked Wednesday: Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

For last year’s Women in Horror Month, I watched Slumber Party Massacre, the first in a series of films that were directed exclusively by female directors.

I watch a lot of 80’s slashers, so I found it slightly difficult to recall the first movie without having to look up the synopsis online. But never fear, Slumber Party Massacre II is a film that will never leave my memory.

Written and directed by Deborah Brock, this sequel is more ridiculous and zany than it’s predecessor. It’s also quite a bit more fun. And why? Well, it still has a driller killer as with the first one. But this drill? This drill is on the end of a guitar! A GUITAR! No explanation needed!

(I’m only saying that because we don’t get one anyway.)

Young Courtney is no longer young. Her older sister Valerie is now in a mental hospital after the horrors the two faced years ago at the first slumber party massacre. Courtney has nightmares about that night. Nightmares about scenes she wasn’t even in. Freaky.

But Courtney has developed a life away from that. She’s in a kickin’ band with her pals, and her crush, Matt, is interested in her. Under her friend Shelia’s insistence, Courtney invites Matt to Shelia’s dad’s new condo over the weekend. It is, after all, Shelia’s birthday.

A slumber party in an out-of-the-way condo? What could go wrong? Well, Courtney’s mom certainly doesn’t want her to go. But her daughter pulls the water works and cries that she doesn’t want to spend her birthday in a mental hospital. Fair enough. Her mother cracks and allows her daughter to do.

The band head off to the condo together, and all seems to be well. While at a stop, Courtney falls asleep where she dreams of a man warning her to not go “all the way”. In her dream he drills through Valerie, who’s on her bed in the mental hospital, with his guitar-drill thing. Courtney wakes up, and assumes that it was just that: a dream.

But the girls arrive at the condo, which means Courtney can’t be bothered to worry about her stupid sister’s fate. The girls get settled, have a pillow fight and strip off (as ladies do). Meanwhile, boys TJ and Jeff arrive to build the sexual tension.

That night while Shelia has sex with one of the boys (I think it’s TJ. Lord knows.), Courtney falls asleep to another nightmare of the Driller Killer. The nightmare tires her out, and in the morning, she’s barely registering anything. The day gets progressively gets worse for her as she begins to have more visions.

But the visions come to a head when Courtney has her own Nightmare on Elm Street bath filled with blood. She screams for help, and her friend Sally arrives in the bathroom, but sees nothing. When Sally tries speaking Courtney, Courtney sees the pimple on Sally’s face grow and eventually melt her entire face (or something).

Courtney runs out of the bathroom to get helps from the others, but they can’t find Sally anywhere. Hours later, they assume something has happened to her and they call the police. The police believe the kids are making things up (especially Courtney, who does herself no favours be describing what happened literally instead of making up stuff that sounds real).

But Sally waltzes back into the house like nothing happened, saying that she went to the shop. The police are then pretty convinced that they never need to believe these kids again…despite the fact that Sally had been missing for hours. But whatever.

Since Matt arrived at the condo earlier that day, he and Courtney now have their time alone. And in what has to be one of the more incredible scenes of the film, the couple have their own Sixteen Candles moment and it is fucking hilarious. Matt brings her a cake that looks like it has been set on fire, and they make out over it.

As the two get busy, Courtney starts to think about the Driller Killer again. And just when things get intimate, Matt gets drilled through the back. The Driller Killer, now out of Courtney’s dreams and into her car, is officially there to terrorise the kids.

As Courtney rushes downstairs, her tries to tell her friends what happened. They all try to split, but no one goes in the same direction. Shelia and TJ go off alone while Courtney, Jeff and Amy head in the opposite direction.

Sally gets killed off first, but she deserved it for being an asshole earlier.

But it hardly matters anyway, as the guitar/drill-wielding dancing killer gets them all in very quick succession. It takes no time at all, and it’s down to Amy and Courtney.

The two girls try to escape the killer through building sites, but Amy eventually falls to her death. When Courtney is finally cornered by the Driller Killer, she’s able to escape him by setting him on fire. This seemingly ends things, but in yet another Nightmare on Elm Street moment, Courtney wakes up from a dream and finds herself in a room in a mental hospital.

It’s great. It’s really great.

The scenes where the Driller Killer peruses the kids are fucking great. While many slashers really tend to drag in the final chase, Slumber Party Massacre II really keeps things (hilariously) interesting.  I like the scenes that are send ups of John Hughes films and the little nods to other horror films.

Do I get what any of this means? Hell no! But it’s certainly something that’s bonkers enough that you need to make all your friends watch it just so you can talk about it.

One of the biggest mistakes the movie made was making these girls likable. Sure, they’re a bit much. But they all feel real and fleshed out. Plus they love Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, and they’re all super terrible dancers!

There’s actually a lot of familiar faces in this one. Heidi Kozak from Society and Friday the 13th pt VII and Juliet Cummins from Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. 

The music is pretty great, too. The band Wednesday Week provided the music for the girls’ band. They were a part of the Paisley Underground scene, which explains why the songs are so Bangles-esque. But the highlight has to be “Tokyo Convertible” by First Born.

I loved Slumber Party Massacre II for all of its insanity. It probably won’t work for everyone, but it certainly made itself memorable. Props to writer and director Deborah Brock. You owned it, lady. Whatever it was that you were trying to do.

I just want to add that Women in Horror Month has been fantastic these first two weeks. The most fun I’ve had watching films in a long time.

Wicked Wednesday: A Visit From the Incubus (2001)

Happy Women in Horror Month! Where our realities are terrifying, and the movies just reflect that!

And what better way to start the celebration than with a short film that was written, produced, directed, edited by the woman who also starred in the film as well did the costumes, sets and score. (And I’m pretty certain she sang her parts in the musical as well. Who says a woman can’t have it all?)

Anna Biller’s A Visit from the Incubus is a western horror musical that is as good as it sounds. Biller’s style has to be one of the most visually recognizable contemporary filmmakers. It’s in full effect here.

Young Lucy (Biller) is a woman in the wild west. Each night she is haunted by an incubus, who torments her by raping in her sleep. She goes to seek advice from her friend Madeleine, who admits she used to be haunted by the incubus as well. But Madeleine tells Lucy that she was able to get rid of her demon.

Despite the offer of refuge at Madeleine’s, Lucy goes home alone. That night, she’s visited by the incubus again. Only in the morning, Lucy doesn’t feel like taking the incubus’s shit anymore. In fact, she feels like a woman.

Taking her new confidence out for a spin, Lucy goes to the local saloon to ask for work – “that kind of work”.

That night, Lucy appears in her first show at the saloon. But her opening act is none other the incubus himself, trying to steal her limelight from her. The two begin their ultimate showdown the only way possible: with song and dance.

The incubus takes the stage and is booed off not once, but twice. And when Lucy hits the stage, she’s an instant success. She becomes the star of the saloon, and is immediately offered a new contract for $100 a week by the saloon manager. Lucy’s victory is her own.

It’s obvious what the message is here, but A Visit from the Incubus never feels heavy-handed. In fact, it also manages to elevate the genre it emulates, something a lot of similar writers and directors often fail to do. There’s a touch of The Harvey Girls with just enough Satanic fun. It’s amazing to see a character have a full story arc (with development!) in under a half hour.

This short was everything. It was smart, funny, provocative, and it can original songs! I’m a sucker for it all.

Women in Horror Month is an initiative to promote the work of women filmmakers throughout the month of February (and all year!). Whether that be behind or in front of the screen, it’s a celebration of a bad-ass group that’s largely underrepresented in the film industry. This month I’ll be highlighting female-directed movies, and I’m really excited about every single one of them.

Visit Women in Horror Month‘s website to learn more about their cause! If you’re a creator, it’s a great space to meet with others in the community.