I’ve just discovered Squidoo, and have started posting lenses. A lens is like an article, a focus on a single topic, but with lots of nifty modules to help add interactivity. It’s been a great exercise in writing for the web.
One of my first lenses is based on “What I Know About Chinese Vampires,” a background piece I wrote several years ago for Rob Fitz for his film, God of Vampires. It’s shorter than the piece I wrote way back then, and includes information about and links to Chinese vampire movies.
If you’re interested in reading more, check out “Chinese Hopping Vampires” on Squidoo.
It is women who love horror. Gloat over it. Feed on it. Are nourished by it. Shudder and cling and cry out — and come back for more.
~ Bela Lugosi
I still remember watching my first horror film at the age of 5. I can’t remember exactly which film it was, although I’ve narrowed it down to two*. What I can tell you is that it scared the living daylights out of me, and I had nightmares for weeks. But I loved it. Even when I woke up in a cold sweat, there was an electricity, a joy, that I hadn’t experienced before. I was scared, yes, but I was safe. And excited. Thrilled, even. I started looking forward to the next one, then the next one, and then the next one.
People are still surprised to discover my love of horror films. Even other women who love horror films.“There are so few of us,”one told me.“You’re the first other woman I’ve met who loves them as much as I do. I thought I was the only one.”
If the internet has taught us anything, it’s that we’re not alone. And when it comes to women who love horror, Women in Horror month has brought us to the fore and helped us to find each other like never before. Hannah Neurotica, editrix of the awesome feminist horror ’zine Ax Wound, proposed Women in Horror Recognition month to bring attention to women in horror.“We are writers, directors, producers, artists, eery musicians, creepy doll makers, FX artists. We are audience!”she writes.“If you are not deep in the underground with publications like Ax Wound, Pretty/Scary, Chainsaw Mafia, etc you might not even know women are out there doing these things.”
When I first started writing feminist perspectives on horror, there were a lot of women who were far from shy when it came to letting me know that I was a part of the problem, that embracing horror as an art form was tantamount to“perpetuating violence against women.”
Granted, there are many films where women are, as Hannah puts it,“bloody babes and soon-to-be gut piles in peril.”But there are plenty more where women are quick-witted, resourceful, self-reliant, resilient, and — perhaps above all else — brave.
In all the horror films that I have done, all of those women were strong women. I don’t feel I ever played the victim, although I was always in jeopardy.
~ Adrienne Barbeau
Scream queens. The genre is what it is, in part, because of women who made their careers screaming at the top of their lungs. These women were most assuredly women in peril. But they were not women who sat idly by while their men were out having adventures. No, they were in the midst of it all, deep in the fray.
In the beginning, there was Fay Wray. In film after film, Wray made good use of not only her looks and her talent, but also her lungs. And in doing so, she paved the way for the many scream queens who followed in her footsteps. While Fay Wray may have found herself in peril, she also played characters who thrived on adventure, whether as Joan Xavier in Doctor X, the young women who lures the maniacal killer to his eventual capture, or as Ann Darrow, the starving actress turned adventurer in King Kong, who not only endures the great ape’s attentions, but is also instrumental in bringing Kong, the eighth wonder, to New York.
Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein may not have had much choice in the matter when she was created by Victor Frankenstein to be the creature’s mate, but she certainly let her disdain for the idea be known through a blood-curdling (and now famous) scream.
Like the Bride before her, Julia Adams was less than thrilled with her paramour, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. While certainly in peril, she was also something more: a marine biologist, a strong (and strong-willed), intelligent, and resourceful professional woman at a time when women were expected to stay home and look after the house and children.
And these are just to name a very, very few of the now famous Queens of Scream.
Women aren’t always in front of the camera, screaming to high heaven. More and more, women are in behind the camera, too, as writers, directors, and more.
When I watched movies like The Goonies and E.T., it was boys having adventures. When I watched Nightmare on Elm Street, it was Nancy beating up Freddy. It was that simple.
~ Diablo Cody
With the release of Diablo Cody’s Jennifer’s Body last year, it seems the mainstream press discovered that women love horror films. Michelle Orange of The New York Times (“Taking Back the Knife: Girls Gone Gory”), in grappling with the seemingly contradictory reality that“box office receipts show that women have an even bigger appetite for these films than men”comes to the conclusion that“[a]udiences love a woman who can take back the knife.”
“Some of us just like that stuff,” Diablo Cody says in response to Orange’s questions about women and horror. “We like suspense, we like to be scared, we like to have visceral reaction in the theater.”
In“Horror Films…And the Women Who Love Them!,”Entertainment Weekly’s Christine Spines also notes the ever increasing box office returns from women who love horror. Spines talks to women and men, producers, directors, and actresses, all of whom come back to the feminist theme of empowerment in horror.
“Horror films tap into the most primal fears,” says Orphan producer Susan Downey.“And when we put a woman through this mythological journey and have her come out at the end kicking ass, the guys get the eye candy they want and the girls get the sense of ’I can face my demon.’”
It may be that it’s only now that the studios are discovering women as something other than woman in peril in the horror genre. Bela Lugosi knew it long before Jennifer’s Body or even Nightmare on Elm Street graced the Silver Screen. Whether it’s looking at the roots of modern horror by way of the gothic novel — consider The Castle of Otranto and The Mysteries of Udolpho, examples of a genre which was dismissed as the 18th century equivalent of“chick lit”— or placing Frankenstein — an extraordinary tale written by a young Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the true progenitor of the modern horror story — at the very beginning of the Women in Horror timeline, the truth is women have been at the center of the horror genre since the beginning.
Postscript: If you’re interested in reading more about women in horror, check out Paula Guran’s (Dark Echo) article“What Women Want…in Horror.”
*I still remember the nightmares that movie inspired all those years ago: me running through the woods on a dark and moonless night, barely able to see more than a few feet around me. I’m being chased by something I can’t see, I can only hear, and then only faintly. Whatever is chasing me is invisible, and I never know how close it is until I think I’ve escaped, and suddenly see the invisible creature’s footprints on the ground, at which point I turn and run in the other direction.
When I first saw Forbidden Planet in my teens, I was convinced that it was that film that I saw, and it was the Creature from the Id that was after me. Convinced, that is, until I saw Curse of the Demon a few years later. My dreams were in black and white, much like Tourneur’s classic film, and my dream of running through the woods being chased by an unseen stalker much like the scene in which the demon — if that’s what it is — is in pursuit of Dana Andrews. I’ll never know for sure which of the two films it was, but I’m leaning toward Curse of the Demon. Either way, I was never the same again.
A great start to 2010! My most recent essay, “Vampyros Lesbos: Lesbian Vampires, Sexadelic Style,” is now available in issue #4 of Scarlet: The Film Magazine.
Released in 1971, Jess Franco’s psychedelic lesbian vampire film is a one-of-a-kind journey into the inner life of a world weary lesbian vampire and her intended victim.
“On the surface it would seem that Vampyros Lesbos is a story of love gone awry, of Nadine’s attempted seduction of Linda, and Linda’s rejection Nadine, of her lifestyle and everything the lifestyle has to offer. In the end, however, it’s the tale of two women, each with their own desires, and each with their own means of attaining the objects of their desire.”
Available at Universal Newsstands, Hollywood Book & Posters, Creepy Classics, Horrorbles, Midtown Comics, Scary Monsters, DreamHaven, Oldies.com, Dark Delicacies & more. Overseas Scarlet may be ordered from Cinema Store & Hemlock Books (both in England).
You can also order directly from Scarlet Film Magazine by using PayPal. Send an e-mail to: email@example.com.
From the archives: Paula Guran interviews women writers, editors, and readers — including Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tabitha King, Joyce Carol Oates, and yours truly — about what women look for in horror film and fiction.
A lot of the appeal of horror for women comes from its gothic roots,” says writer, editor, critic Pam Keesey. “Gothic literature, often dismissed as ‘women’s literature,’ was women’s adventure literature, women’s quest literature. Traditional gothic literature often put women at the center of the story, testing their strength, intelligence, bravery, and endurance, often in the face of supernatural adversity. Those elements still appear with frequency in horror films and literature — John Carpenter’s Halloween comes to mind — and I think is, in part, what women find appealing about horror.
Read the full article: What Women Want…in Horror.
The scene is black and white, the setting gothic — a cathedral perhaps, or maybe a crypt. The lights are low; a candelabra is burning in the shadows. A low mist rises over the vast expanse of the foyer. A figure forms in the mist, advancing through a doorway at the far side of the room. She has an impossibly small waist, a wasp-like cinching between the swelling breasts and the voluptuous hips of a fertility goddess. Her black dress is in tatters, a form-fitting, cleavage-revealing shroud. Fingernails like straight razors extend from her long, pale fingertips. her face is white, placid with dark lips and kohled eyes. Eyebrows like flying arches frame her face, marking the space between her eyes and her black serpentine hair. Her gaze is fixed on the camera before her as she approaches, her eyes locked with yours. She raises her talons to her hair and screams an ear-piercing wail, a banshee’s cry. In a voice deep and rich, a timbre reaching from beyond the grave, she speaks:
“Good evening,” she says. “I am…Vampira.”
It was my mother who told me that Maila Nurmi died today. She’s not a fan, nor of the era of the Vampira show. But she knew of Vampira through my love of horror and my friendship with Maila herself, so when she heard the news, her first impulse was to call me.
I first met Maila in 1995, at the Son of Famous Monsters convention at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. Maila made several appearances throughout the weekend, and told some wonderful stories about how Howard Hawkes brought her to Hollywood to make her “the next Lauren Bacall,” her split with Hawkes, her adventures with James Dean, and her later association with the infamous Ed Wood.
One of my favorite stories from the weekend was when she was asked who she most enjoyed working with in Hollywood. She mentioned how much she enjoyed working with Basil Rathbone, her co-star in The Magic Sword, and how much she admired and appreciated him.
“He took me under his wing and advised me, a young actress, about how to be successful in Hollywood.”
“What was his advice?” I asked her.
“Honestly, I don’t remember,” she answered, in inimitable Maila style. “At the time I thought, who the hell is this guy to be telling me what to do?”
We spent a lot of time together that weekend, talking about her expriences as a child and young woman, about great actresses such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, and the world of the classic femme fatale. I bought one of my prized possessions from her that weekend, too: a painting of Vampira, by Vampira, standing in Holy Cross Cemetery, with soil from the cemetery mixed in with the paint.
We saw each other many times of over the years, at various events and conventions. One of my favorite memories is the time we were lucky enough to find her at one of her favorite haunts, the McDonald’s on Sunset Boulevard, sitting in the booth under a portrait of Greta Garbo. Intelligent, dynamic, engaging, witty, it was always a delight to visit with her. I always regretted not being able to spend more time with her because I lived so far away, and now I’ll never have that opportunity.
You’ll be missed, Maila. Thank you for everything.