The Unfair Business of Being a Woman Director in the Boys Club of Horror Filmmaking

The Advocate

Hannah Forman, better known as Hannah Neurotica, is a testament to the Internet's invaluable power. Although she lives in "middle-of-nowhere" New England and has only been to one horror convention in her entire life, the Brooklyn-born writer/editor/activist continues to have an impact on female genre directors worldwide via Women in Horror Month. She picked February because of how its 28-day count mirrors that of the menstrual cycle, a tongue-in-cheek move that also exemplifies the naturalistic manner in which WiHM came to fruition. Kicked off by an emphatic blog post in 2010, WiHM gains in momentum on a yearly basis, inspiring ladies the world over to host local screenings, blood drives, art shows, and other events.

Prior to WiHM, Neurotica wrote and edited the self-distributed fan zine Ax Wound, a publication concentrating on all things feminine horror that's been publicly praised by luminaries like Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, and "Godfather of Gore" Herschell Gordon Lewis. Marked by its passionate, authoritative voice, Ax Wound earned Neurotica a strong reputation long before Women in Horror Month began, and it's that same resolve that's helped her power through the controversy that's surrounded WiHM since its inception. As it turns out, some men aren't too responsive to women dedicating an entire month to singling out their gender's contributions to the horror genre.

Which, of course, means that Ms. Neurotica is clearly doing something right.

How did Ax Wound come about?
Over a decade ago, I was in college and was studying feminism and film. I grew up loving horror films, but I had this moment where I wondered if I should feel guilty for loving horror films. My dad got me into it; he actually passed away not too long ago. He introduced me to horror films as a kid, and I loved them.

When I got to college [at Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington], you know how when you discover something, you're really open to it, and you become fanatical about it before you can take a step back and look at it objectively and critically, and put your own pieces together. At that moment, I was like, feminism is one thing and horror and pornography are another thing, and they can't intermingle. I had a really hard time with that, because I loved horror but I was really being exposed to being a woman and things I didn't think about.

At that point, I kind of tried to deny my love of horror, and any time you try to deny your love of anything, that doesn't turn out so well. After two years or so of trying to avoid it, and slashers specifically, one day I went into the Women's Research Center on campus, which is where I was interning, and there was a guy in there reading Carol Clover's book Men, Women, and Chainsaws, and that was a big moment for me, to even learn that book existed. It was like, Wow, there is one academic piece of literature about the intersection between gender and feminism. It was the first time where I thought, OK, there is more to this than just bad versus good, feminism versus horror. It's different to everyone what's OK.

That opened my mind up to think about it differently. There was a big conference on sexuality happening on our campus, and the guy who was reading the book said that he was doing this workshop on gender and horror. It was such a great experience, but afterward it was like, OK, so now who I can talk to about this? Heidi's website wasn't around yet, there was nothing. I needed that connection. I started Ax Wound magazine, because, A, I needed to express my thoughts, but also to put a fishing line out there into the world to say, "I know there are feminist horror fans out there…where are you?" That was the mission at that point.

I made that magazine for years until anybody found it. Heidi [Honeycutt] found out about me somehow, because a year after I started Ax Wound, she started her website, Pretty Scary. I was so excited to find out about her site, and she offered me a message board for Ax Wound. That was huge, because now I was part of a community that was like me. That helped me build my own base of people.

Lately, you've been focusing more on Women in Horror Month. What's the current status of Ax Wound?
I'm in the process of trying to build it to be a more widespread magazine. Right now, there are tons of magazines, but there are no horror magazines catering to what it's like to be a female fan, to build up the self-esteem, and to feature the women in all the pages, not just a token on a few pages. My goal is to make that space more widely available. Jen and Sylvia has a column, Heidi has a column.

When it started, I did the entire thing, from cutting to pasting to writing, and now I have a staff. I used to paste the whole thing down with glue and used typewriters, trying to do it old-school, but I have artists who donate their work and staff writers who have been with me for 10 years. It's a core group of people, but I tend to put a lot of what I write in there, but I have also gotten to a point now where I'm also including a lot of work from other writers. I'm really trying to showcase as much as I can, and cover all facets of horror.

If I had my way, and I had the money, it would be monthly. The last issue was a very massive issue. I got in this weird thing where I kept forgetting that I had other issues, and that I didn't have to put everything in this one issue. It was so overwhelming, and my dad had passed away, so I was making the magazine while he was dying. I wasn't able to make another issue for a long time, but just recently I've been getting ready to launch my first publishing Kickstarter to really publish this new issue that's based on sex and horror. It's more like once a year, though, due to funding. It's something that if I could do more frequently, I would.

What prompted you to launch Women in Horror Month back in 2010?
When Jennifer's Body came out, I got requested to do an interview with CBC Radio, to be on a panel with Jovanka Vuckovic and Aviva Breifel. They wanted to talk about, since that film was Diablo Cody, "How are there women who like horror? What's going on with the world?" I remember before being live on the radio, the producer was interviewing me beforehand, and she was just oblivious to the fact that women like horror. She couldn't wrap her brain around it, and I was surprised that a woman in media was so surprised about it.

During the interview, I was appalled; we had a 30-minute spot, and the woman who was interviewing us was treating us like we must be really weird girls, like, there's no way we're normal girls. In fact, a big chunk of that was, the woman was talking to Jovanka, who was the only woman in the studio (me and Aviva were calling in), and the woman was saying, "So, you've got a lot of tattoos. Tell us about all of your tattoos." I was like, really, we have 30 minutes to talk about women in horror and you're commenting on her body? That made me even more angry. Not only are we seen as weird girls, but, even in this context, it's all about our bodies, not what we're thinking or doing.

I sat down on my couch I said to myself, "I can't handle this anymore. We need a month. We need a Women in Horror Month!" [Laughs.] That seemed like a cool idea. In this passionate rage, I started typing this blog post with everything about why we needed it; within hours, I had an overwhelming response. I said, "Let's do this in February," and somehow people really clicked with it. They started setting up film festivals and events. It just kind of exploded. So much has happened because of it; it went viral. It was amazing that it was just this one blog post that became a movement.

The best thing is, I didn't do anything. I didn't plan any events or hold events. All I did was help people and support them. What it is is people are encouraged to do something in their community: rent out a local theater, put on a showing in their house, do a reading, have a social event right on your block. I was basically just helping spark the ideas at the time. It was an amazing thing… Yeah, I started Women in Horror Month, but it never would have become a thing if not for people all over the world actually making events in their communities. It was other people who brought it to life, and I just helped facilitate it. Every year, there's always something so different and creative.

With that, we don't just focus on film. We've had people who host creative writing meetings, we've had people who've put on play. Jen and Sylvia, that first year, launched the massive blood drive, which they do a PSA every year during Women in Horror Month to encourage people to give blood, because blood is associated with horror and it's also doing a really good thing. One of the month's main goals is that everything has to be for charity; you can't make a profit off of your event. The money should go to, say, the local rape crisis center. We really want to do more than just show films. We want to really stand for something bigger, too. The hope is that once we can continue to get more opportunities, it will extend beyond just horror. My hope is that it will inspire other facets of the creative world to include women.

Hollywood doesn't have as much power as people think. It's the people who got American Mary where it is. It's giving people a sense of, Hey, you can do something and we're going to help you, and it's going to be awesome.

There was resistance at first, particularly from some men in the horror world. Has that been dying down now that it's becoming more established and respected?
In the beginning, it was so new, and everyone had to process it. And it took a minute, too. When I wrote that blog post, I didn't expect a movement to come from it, so I didn't have a set of guidelines or a mission statement, other than what I felt. Every year is so different, in regards to people's perception of it. At first, I got a lot of hate and harassment, but I learned through women like Jovanka, who have been in this world for a while, that you just have to work through it.

 
Hollywood doesn't have as much power as people think. It's the people who got American Mary where it is.
 

When I joined forces with the Viscera organization, we really hammered out what we are. Since then, we've been trying really hard to take away all of the myths that are out there, like, "Women in Horror Month is only for women to self-promote," or, "We don't really need Women in Horror Month." We're trying to educate people that it's not exclusive. Nothing will change without the help and support of men. We are all fans. Men benefit from Women in Horror Month, because if we have more women making films, we'll have more horror, we'll have more original voices, we'll have new and different perspectives. We can all gain from that.

The resistance didn't die down, but I stopped paying attention to it. The first year, I wasn't very professional with it, admittedly. I didn't come up as a quote-unquote "profession person," so I really had to shift how I responded to things. At first, it wasn't very professional. Now, when I see something, I'm able to recognize it and let it be. By just letting it be, it doesn't happen as much because people aren't getting the attention they want. I still get hate mail every year and find horrific things about me on the Internet, and every year I feel better about it because I know that I am doing something that's right and important.

There was no precedent for Women in Horror Month when you first launched it. What has been the biggest challenge?
Any time you have a group of women, women can be mean to each other—that's not a secret. One of the things I'm really impressed by is that, in the beginning, there was a lot cattiness. The board of directors for the month are me, Heidi [Honeycutt], Shannon [Lark], Jen, Sylvia, Jovanka [Vuckovic], and Debbie Rochon. I said, "You know what? If we want things to change, we can't be catty. That's what people want, to see us fight and be torn down." We've all since done an amazing job of keeping any disagreements away from the public, because we know what we're fighting for. We've done a great job of working through our differences together. That's something I really want to get across to other women.

Jen and Sylvia are a great example. If a woman sees that they've gotten into this position after making American Mary, and she says, "Fuck them, that's not fair," then what does that do for you? Do you think them getting a deal means you're not going to? That's one of the things we want to change. Women have to not be so catty and jealous. You should be happy, support them, and use that as motivation to put everything you have into what you want to do.

blog comments powered by Disqus