Top 8: Favorite Women in Horror
With this list, Matthew T., Ames and Ali decided that it was important to keep it open to all roles, whether it be an actor, writer, director or producer. We have stumbled upon so many of these types of lists, and certainly encourage you to read all of them! Even if you are seeing the same names over and over, it’s worth the read to see the many different ways these women have influenced our generation!
I have five favourite movies and I love them all for very different reasons, but the one thing they share is their ability to excite me about film. There is a strong emotional response, not in the sense that they move me and force me to think about society and dissect the human condition, but rather they invoke in me a trembling enthusiasm for motion pictures that afterward leaves me feeling full and empty at the same time. Full of inspiration and gratitude for the talent and brilliance witnessed; and empty for not fulfilling my own desire to make equally exciting films. Mary Harron’s adaptation of AMERICAN PSYCHO lands in my top five and even just thinking about it I am infused with energy because it is what I consider to be a perfect film.
Mary started out as a music journalist in the 70’s. Her focus was on punk rock or, at the time, “underground”. She was the first person in the U.S. to interview The Sex Pistols, which is kind of a big deal. In 1996 her first feature film I SHOT ANDY WARHOL exploded at Sundance. This film was set in motion by her interest in the life of Valerie Solanas and her book the Scum Manifesto. Unlike many of its other readers, Mary saw a dark comedic tone in this book and wanted to portray the author in the way she perceived her. The film was ultimately awarded the grand jury prize at Sundance and from there she went on to search for her next project.
Roger Corman’s industry rule of thumb is that there are three things that make a film entertaining – Sex, Violence and Comedy – and as long as you have at least two of these elements your film will be marketable. In AMERICAN PSYCHO, Mary was able to find a balance between all three. But regardless of its entertainment value, this is a film that many dismiss at first. It is overly sexual and violent, though not nearly as brutal as described in the Bret Easton Ellis novel. This is due to the fact that Mary wanted the film to focus on what she felt it was really about – a satirical examination on social status. The character of Patrick Bateman appears to be a dark, seemingly empty vessel driven by evil. Only it’s not your typical satanic evil, but rather evil in the form of an uncontrollable desire to appear perfect as part of achieving high social status. What isn’t comical about that? Grown men working on Wall Street, gathered in a boardroom in their expensive suits, sweating, panicking, bordering on tears – and not over financial reports or clients, but over the texture and font of their individually customized business cards. Mary brought the humor to the surface which is what really brought this film to life, the sex and violence playing second fiddle. Every prostitute killed along the way is just collateral damage in Patrick’s climb to the highest ranks of a social war. Of course there is more depth to it than that, other factors to consider, but we’ll save that for future discussions. To me this film is perfect because there isn’t one thing I would change creatively or technically. Every shot, every light, every sound, every actor and every word came together splendidly.
Since AMERICAN PSYCHO Mary has directed episodes of THE L WORD, SIX FEET UNDER and BIG LOVE. She is very mindful of the projects she takes on, stating “…If I’m going to write a script it has to be something that I’m going to stay interested in over a long period. Writing a film is time-consuming, and I have to be invested in it.” Her newest feature THE MOTH DIARIES is a psychological horror that centers on young women at a boarding school who start to encounter odd disturbances coinciding with the arrival of a mysterious new student. The atmosphere she created for this film is reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY – “It’s not so much what you see, it’s what you don’t see” she has said. Read more about the film and view the trailer at indiewire.
REFLECTION: I edited this down from two and half pages to one. I really identify with her views and perceptions and I appreciate her ability to connect to her material. Mary has said that “without feminism, I wouldn’t be doing this. So I feel very grateful. Without it, God knows what my life would be. I don’t make feminist films in the sense that I don’t make anything ideological. But I do find that women get my films better.” We can all recognize that, in the here and now, women have come a long way in the industry. We are treated more equally and given more opportunities. Yes the numbers still seem low and the ratio of men to women is still very unbalanced, but why? Mary once spoke to a film class that was half men and half women. She says that through the course of her time with the class, the men participated and asked many questions, but the women didn’t speak. It wasn’t just a passing observation, she actually addressed it. They had an equal presence and the opportunity to engage, yet they remained quiet. Maybe it’s our mentality. Is it possible that we are holding ourselves back, lacking confidence, in fear of an oppression that no longer exists? I guess that is just another point to consider.[Ali]
Angela Bettis, above all, is a true horror fan. She has dedicated her life to acting, producing and directing horror films. She and her husband Kevin Ford created a production company called Mo-Freek (2001) in which she spends a lot of her time spinning out low-budget horror flicks. It’s very enlightening to know that an actress of horror sincerely wants to be there for the love of the genre. She isn’t just a face to a movie, she’s the real deal and most often knee deep in its process.
Angela first appeared on the big screen in a drama set in Italy, called The Sparrow in 1993. It wasn’t until six years later we would see her again. It was her natural, waif-like figure that helped land her in the critically acclaimed appearance as Janet, the annorexic, in Girl, Interrupted (1999). She played a startling role as a very disturbed mother in Bless, the Child (2000). It is no wonder she was cast for the TV Movie leading role in Carrie (2002). It is clear that by this point, Angela has a way of figuring out her characters and can push herself flawlessly to portray them in the manner they are meant to be seen. She shined in The Toolbox Murders (2004) who happened to have an appearance by one of my other favourite horror females Sheri Moon Zombie. Angela Bettis has a slew of horror performances such as that in The Circle (2005) and Scar (2007) but Angela is no type-cast. She has appeared in cross-genre films such as her role in Drones (2010) and All My Friends are Funeral Singers (2010).
My personal favourite from her 2002 released films, was her role in May. I have never seen a performance quite like this, so it has been burned in my memory. The character is a quirky, sheltered, borderline schizophrenic woman who’s only true friend is a doll in a box. What other actress would fit this role? I don’t know how May passed veterinarian school without going ballistic on her students but we’ll let that one slide. May is in need to find perfection and she will stop at nothing to build the perfect friend. We see May blossom into womanhood as she becomes more confident with each kill. It’s a great character study if you’re in psychology. May was a great collaboration with Lucky McKee who wrote and directed the film. Angela and Lucky worked again on a movie called Roman (2006), the gender reversed idea of May, starring Lucky and directed by Angela.
I’m on the edge of my seat watching previews for The Woman (2011). Angela Bettis plays a beautiful and unconventional wife to a man who has found and shackled an uncivilized woman in their basement. You know, one of those raised-by-wolves type of chick. I have a feeling Angela’s wife character is going to be everything I wanted. In the preview, she received a slap from her husband. Sure, one could say that glorifies misogynistic behaviour but I say, character development. Angela is attracted to complicated stories, showcasing the lives of individuals and their relations between people. She has no fear depicting any behaviour type female and will do anything to make the film legitimate. I am also anticipating The ABC’s of Death that is still TBA for sometime in 2012. Angela Bettis, amongst a conglomerate of filmmakers, is directing one of the 26 chapters in this horror anthology project.
REFLECTION: I’ve always loved every performance Angela Bettis has given but I had never researched her before. I went straight to the sources to learn she is from Austin, Texas and also, to my personal fascination, is a twin to her brother Joseph. I searched through movie clips, only to stumble across some live interviews. It is breathtaking to watch her converse with others. Angela is quick on her feet and shows enthusiasm in her work. She wants to work. I tend to pride myself with work ethics and can easily see this in others. Someone needs to give Angela Bettis a starring, knock-out lead role because this woman has the ability to handle herself. I believe she can do anything as she seems to be a very honest individual with no pretences. Angela is like a fine glass of wine; her beauty and talent gets better with age.[Ames]
This three time Oscar winner has been insanely busy the last few years heading up the makeup departments on hugely popular films like the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and its sequels, and more recently THE HUNGER GAMES and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. While these obviously aren’t horror films, they do require character makeups that involve various special effects and prosthetics. These makeups and their techniques didn’t widely appear in family films and dramas like they do today, they originated in horror films.
When Ve Neill started out she was one of very few female makeup artists. Most females in the makeup department were stuck doing hair while men carried out the creation of elaborate creature effects. As prosthetic makeup was coming to the foreground of makeup artistry she began working with Steve Neill, going to set and doing applications. She developed a strong reputation for her patience and attention to detail that soon had her in high demand.
With a career as huge as hers I would love to sit here and pay tribute to each and every film her work has touched, starting with the STAR TREK MOTION PICTURE all the way to the more recent PRIEST, but I am going to try and focus on the horror films.
Ve found character makeups to be more challenging so she would often gravitate toward projects that involved creatures or extensive designs. She and Steve Neill worked with producer Charles Band (a Blood Theatre favorite) on the “original sci-fi classic” LASERBLAST after which they went on to create special masks and mannequin effects on (another Blood Theatre favorite) – TOURIST TRAP.
Several years and films later, she stepped out of the assistant/team role and started making her own impression. On THE LOST BOYS she shaped what is now the most common look associated with vampires (well, I guess that was until the sparkles of TWILIGHT took over). By removing the eyebrows and manipulating the structure of the forehead, a very simple change, it was enough to create something ghastly. Her patience allowed her to blend her prosthetic appliances flawlessly and her eye for detail put directors at ease knowing their expectations would not only be met, but pushed much further. One of my personal favorite details is the moss she had growing on the face of Tim Burton’s BEETLEJUICE, a makeup so fantastic that it won her her first Oscar.
- Ali (@AJFaucher)
“I think sometimes people take horror films a little too seriously. Without question, there are those films that merit academic inquiry, but I’ve never entirely embraced the “feminist” perspective on horror films. While I agree with some of it, I don’t always see the machete as the fleshy knife that penetrates the unwilling woman. Sometimes a knife is just a knife.”
These days, when the topic of women in horror is brought up, the name Jovanka Vuckovic is never far behind. The amount that she has accomplished through her career continues to be a source of inspiration for all horror fans that desire to work in the industry, and give something back to the genre they love. Whether you know her for her work in special effects, as the editor-in-chief of RUE MORGUE magazine, an author, or (most recently) as a director; there is no doubt that she has earned her place in the annals of the horror genre.
Jovanka’s love affair with monsters and the macabre began early in her childhood. When she entered McMaster University to study forensic anthropology–which she considers to be the true start of her career in horror–she gained a new perspective on the difference between the horror of real death, and that of fiction. In her words: “…working with the dead gave me the perspective I needed to really appreciate living, which only made me appreciate my beloved horror films and literature that much more. There was the horror of my real life and the cathartic escapism and highly conceptualized violence that movies offered. Seeing what a real body looks like after it’s been dredged out of the sewer system by a roto rooter suddenly makes zombies, vampires and werewolves kind of silly – pure entertainment.”
When she left forensics, she worked for five years at CBC as a digital special effects artist — a job which earned her a Gemini award for Best Visual Effects. It was during this time that she began to write: what emerged were several unpublished pieces pertaining to her philosophy and views of the horror genre. It was also then that she spent her energy volunteering her time to the (now renowned) RUE MORGUE magazine. Her efforts culminated in her appointment as editor-in-chief of the magazine; a position which allowed her words to be read by thousands of readers. Jovanka Vuckovic was now a household name amongst horror fans.
Though she has stepped down at RUE MORGUE, she continues to contribute heavily to the horror genre. Her most recent accomplishments have included the publication of her book: “Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead“, as well as the upcoming release of her first film, “The Captured Bird“; a horror-fantasy which has earned the support of critically-acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro.
REFLECTION: Jovanka Vuckovic’s life is a testament to the fact that “…as cliché as it is, you really can achieve anything you want in the world if you set your mind to it.” Though she has already accomplished so much, her career is essentially only beginning, and we look forward to seeing what the future holds in store for her. Also: she is extremely appreciative of her fans, and communicates regularly through Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. To stay updated on her current projects, we highly recommend you follow her!
- Matthew T. (@mctherrien)
(Quotes were taken from Fatally Yours’ interview with Jovanka Vuckovic)
SHERI MOON ZOMBIE
My casual affair with Sheri Moon Zombie begins on Tuesday, May 2nd, 2003: cheap night. Ali and Ames, along with our crew, witness Sheri Moon’s first role in Rob Zombie’s feature length film; House of 1000 Corpses. Side note: If the group of us stepped foot on that red carpeted floor, passed those red velvet ropes, that means the mall theatre clerks didn’t ID us! And had they, my eyes would not have laid upon Sheri Moon Zombie on the big screen, as shortly after, they removed the film from the theatre. After the show, mixed feelings and discussions ensued. On a personal level, I was completely enamoured with Sheri Moon Zombie in particular. Then again, I’ve always had a penchant for psychotic blonds.
Just when I wasn’t sure as to where Rob Zombie’s film career was headed, he pushed forward. I anticipated The Devil’s Rejects to appear before my eyes. Luckily, I had a horror kismet with Ali and she took me to the theatre for my birthday on August 7, 2005 to see the show before it was pulled the following week. I had previously seen Sheri Moon play Baby as this giggling, sociopathic girl with psycho-sexual issues and couldn’t wait to see her again. It helped that she created a voice for her character as apparently her dreams laid in voice acting for cartoons. I was brilliantly surprised to see her on the screen, bringing Baby to life once more, but this time more solid, more raw, more something, whatever it was it worked and helped the film cross beyond an exploitation film. In this, I feel she truly married her character and became a scream queen.
Why couldn’t Sheri Moon Zombie be on that show “Married to Rock” where they follow around the wives of Rock n’ Roll musicians as they get into kooky shenanigans? Is it because they were afraid she would end up killing them all? They should be. This woman has shown us intense emotional range from the dark spectrum, such as “crazy” to “really f***ing crazy”. In all seriousness, Sheri Moon treats every character she plays with honour and respect. She has let us see inner darkness, for example in Hallowe’en, showing the downward spiral of a mother dealing with a disturbed, murderous son. How would any mother deal in that situation? She carried the act well, right up to the mere moments of her characters suicide. That’s an Oscar right there, in my heart.
I’ve tried very hard not to talk too much about the woman behind the man in front of the man behind the woman… but I must! If you were anything like me, listening to that rock and or roll music, and if you liked it a bit harder, you definitely listened to bands such as Rob Zombie. It is no shock that Sheri Moon has been in plenty of his videos, toured with him, danced etc. Back in ’99, the cover of “American Made Music to Strip By”. You know what I’m talking about. Google it. Actually, if anyone can find any photos of her set from Playboy of 2005, contact me @AmiLaDeDa… Well, it seems I have lost my course in praising the pair as a fine example of a power couple. Did I mention she has a clothing line? It’s called “Total Skull”. Please feel free to buy some size smalls and contact me @AmiLaDeDa.
REFLECTION: If Ali and Ames went to the show twice to see a Rob Zombie flick starring Sheri Moon Zombie, that only means history could by chance repeat itself! If I know a thing or two about history (not really), I could tell you that we may dare step out for an outing to catch her next appearance. With a simple IMDB check, The Lords of Salem is coming out this year! Oooh I can feel it now… Walking into a movie theatre, maybe I bought some Junior Mints, maybe I didn’t… we choose our seats, I cross my legs, I uncross them, I put my feet on the chair in front of me, people sit in front of me, I take my feet down, I curl into the fetal position, etc. Ahh the magic of the movie theatre wins me over every time. Dim the lights, please. Scream away, queen!
- Ames (@AmiLaDeDa)
AMY HOLDEN JONES
Followers of The Blood Theatre know that this one was a no brainer. We love THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE and had the opportunity to attend a screening in 35mm last week as part of Rue Morgue’s Cinemacabre film series. They chose this film in honor of Women in Horror Month and set up a Q &A via skype with writer/director Amy Holden Jones.
Amy got her big break when Martin Scorsese saw a documentary she had directed just out of school. He thought she had potential and took her on as his assistant during the filming of TAXI DRIVER and later had her edit his own documentary AMERICAN BOY: A PROFILE OF STEVEN PRINCE. During this time she also developed a working relationship with Roger Corman. It began with editing a few of his pictures until he offered her a chance to write and direct her own. At the time she had also been offered the chance to edit Steven Speilberg’s E.T. but production had been postponed due to filming on POLTERGEIST. She had a choice to wait and edit a potential blockbuster, or pull an old script off the Corman shelf and get to work right away. Her desire to direct was strong and she went for it, seeing this as her only opportunity to break through.
Although the film never gave her the big directing break she had hoped for, it did show what she was capable of as a writer. The bare bones of SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE had already been scripted by writer Rita Mae Brown. It had been shelved by Corman until Amy found it and used it to make a short film, proving that she could handle the project. Once given the go ahead she re-wrote most of the script, injecting the comedy and bringing it to life. She went on to have a successful writing career, penning great films such as MYSTIC PIZZA, INDECENT PROPOSAL, THE RICH MAN’S WIFE and RELIC.
The horror chapter of her career was short, but it left us with one of the best films of the Slasher sub-genre. Amy admits to being a little skeptical of the film at first, but after years of screenings and a cult following that continues to grow, she has realized how fantastic the project was. In the Q &A she talked about how much fun the production was during filming, stating that if given the opportunity to work on another horror film, she would jump at the chance.
REFLECTION: Amy had a lot of stories to share with us, some from the set of TAXI DRIVER and others about what it’s like to work alongside a showman like Roger Corman. It was a real pleasure to hear her talk about how she started her career. Horror films tend to be low budget and independent which is why so many directors are able to use it as starting platform. Some are able to pursue strong careers and break out of the genre like Ridley Scott and James Cameron. Others take the genre that made them successful and run with it like John Carpenter and Wes Craven (but don’t think they didn’t try once or twice to make a genre leap). Amy was straight with us about the fact that she wasn’t able to jumpstart a career in directing like the others, but she took the opportunity for what it was. Through this project she was able to uncover a natural talent for writing that she did not know she had. I personally can’t wait for her triumphant return to horror!
- Ali (@AJFaucher)
When you see this funky, short broad step on the screen, you can’t possibly sit there and tell me that you feel nothing. Zelda Rubinstein (1933-2010) has blessed us with her presence, most notably for her role in the Poltergeist trilogy and various television and horror flicks (including our personal fave Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon). The presence Zelda exudes in front of the camera has left us baffled to try and describe. Here’s a shot: unearthly, enchanting, phantasmagorical, hip yet stoic, spooky, altogether-ooky, horror-theatrical, horractrical? I could go on…
And then she speaks. Zelda’s creepy-sweet voice has easily become one of the most recognizable in the industry. You can still feel her whisper in the long-run Skittles campaign for “Taste the Rainbow”. You thought that was a child’s voice, didn’t ya! Zelda had a strong inner voice as well, staunchly standing up for her beliefs. In our most recent human history was the discovery of the AIDS epidemic in which Zelda immediately had an unquenchable need to be a part of its awareness. Being in LA and around gay friends, she took it as her number one duty to urge the use of protection during sexual activity. At the time of AIDS being labelled a “gay disease”, I admire Zelda in her efforts at a time where people were too afraid to understand or stand up. At a height of 4’3” (due to a lack of production in growth hormones from the anterior pituitary gland), Zelda stood up often! She took heart to all little people and formed the Michael Dunn Memorial Repertory Theatre that held memberships of all little individuals wanting to act.
I would have loved to see another terrifying act by this lovely woman. You almost want to believe her characters existed as she truly brought them to life. As much as we wanted more of Zelda, we, the audience, could not have her as she was intensely dedicated to her passions. Zelda was a martyr. I hope in the end she had realized that her career was not a price to pay, but that her gained fame was a necessary tool in skyrocketing her causes. We had a taste of her talent and we will always remember that but an extra horror movie means nothing compared to any individual who’s life had been saved, helped or inspired by Zelda Rubinstein. R.I.P.
REFLECTION: Is it ever too late to chase your dreams? Zelda undoubtedly had a lot against her when heading into the film industry as a female actress. With an undeniable presence, voice, and a stance of 4’3”, Zelda didn’t go into acting until well into her mid-40′s. By the time Poltergiest was released, she was 49 years old. After achieving a bachelor’s degree in Bacteriology, her job as a lab technician ran too monotonous for her I presume. To succeed in your dreams with menopause right around the corner though… That’s something to tote about. Perhaps if she went into the industry at a younger age, it could have worked against her and any insecurities she may have had. Zelda’s unique self, along with a passion to extract her creative nature, landed her success in an industry that could have turned her away. Luckily for us fans, it didn’t and she is now notorious in her days end.
- Ames (@AmiLaDeDa)
Debra Hill started working in the film business in the 1970’s. Beginning at the bottom, she worked her way up through the typical female crew positions – P.A., Script Supervisor etc… In 1975 she met John Carpenter while working as continuity and assistant editor on ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. This would become one of the most important working relationships she would ever have. Together they wrote HALLOWEEN and Debra worked hard as producer to what would become one of the most commercially successful horror pictures of their time. They had no idea that this simple idea, sleepy town setting and small indie budget would catapult them into mainstream success. From there they worked together on several films such as HALLOWEEN II, HALLOWEEN III, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE FOG.
After working with Carpenter for several years, she moved on to work with other directors such as David Cronenberg on THE DEAD ZONE. She formed an independent production company, Hill/Obst Productions, with her friend and fellow producer Lynda Obst. It was with this production company that Debra’s career was able to expand far beyond the horror genre with films like ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING and THE FISHER KING. She would eventually partner with Carpenter once more on the film ESCAPE FROM L.A.
Film facts and history aside, Debra Hill was one of the few women to pave the way for women in today’s film industry. Women had been stuck in the same customary roles within film crews for decades, but she, like a few other women that will appear on this list, refused to settle into this tradition. Working hard to break through these conventional roles, she fought her way to a higher position and earned the respect of her colleagues, the studios and her audience.
Carpenter has described her as a “real pioneer in the business, who opened the road for women”. He would definitely know since the film that really started it all his. While it will always be known as John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, the fact remains that without Debra Hill, there would be no Haddonfield. That name may have started as one small detail, but it quickly became the most plagued town in horror history. Although it does not exist in Illinois, it does exist in New Jersey where Debra was born. In 2003 she was honored by Women in Film for her work in the industry. Her career had still been going strong when she passed away in 2005 at the age of 54.
REFLECTION: I wrote this one because my favorite film is HALLOWEEN. I am not a feminist, although most women think that as a woman I should be, but isn’t that a little sexist in itself? I think that women still have a long way to go, but that doesn’t mean that there are people/studios/men standing in our way. I think that the industry has proved in the last few years that it is rooting for women. We have the support behind us, but like most changes, they take time to evolve- nothing happens overnight, or over a decade or two. Great strides have been made and we have come a long way, but looking at a career like Debra Hill’s there is one important factor that I think is over looked. Yes she paved the way and achieved a lot, especially in a male dominant genre like horror, but one of the most important things she accomplished was working closely with men as part of a team. Anyone can set out to accomplish something on their own, but not everyone is capable of maintaining successful working relationships. To have earned the respect, to have been held with high regard on a creative and professional level, and most importantly have your team behind you- these are huge accomplishments. To rise above the men on your own seems to be what a lot of women want; but to hold your own among men is in my opinion, a much greater achievement.
- Ali (@AJFaucher)