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

In an interview with Forbes, Amy Pascal, the co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment, candidly discussed the barriers women face in Hollywood.

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As if female directors, both aspiring and established, needed another reason to get pissed off, Amy Pascal, the co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment, gave them a huge one last week. In an interview with Forbes, Pascal candidly discussed the barriers women face in Hollywood. "For a woman to direct a movie in Hollywood, she has to go through so many layers of rejection by the powers that be—I suppose including myself—that it is harder to get to that point," said Pascal. "So you can't just create something. And I think there is a whole unconscious mountain… I think that the whole system is geared for them to fail."

It's no surprise that women have a much harder time behind the camera than men do—that's been the case for decades. But in January, preceding Pascal's alarming quotes, a study was released in conjunction with the Sundance Film Festival that posted some disheartening numbers. One, women only made up 4.4% of directors found within the top 100 box office movies each year from 2002 through 2012, and, two, only 29.8% of the films screened at Sundance during those 10 years were made by women (including directors, writers, editors, producers, and cinematographers). Nearly 40% of the women polled cited "male-dominated networking" as their biggest challenge, while 43.1% blamed the dilemma on "gendered financial barriers," meaning they aren't getting paid nearly as much as the guys.

Oddly enough, one would think that the horror genre could be the exception here. After all, most scary flicks center around female characters. And similar studies have shown that more than half of the audiences paying to see Hollywood-made horror are women. Yet the views of figures like Pascal apply to the fright genre as well. Visit any horror-centric film festival or convention and the truth is unavoidable: For every one women director or producer, there are dozens of male ones. It's a harsh reality that's inspired such pro-female initiatives like Hollywood's Viscera Film Festival, Australia's Stranger With My Face festival, and Women in Horror Month, held every February and aimed at motivating women horror filmmakers to unite and stage local screenings, readings, and networking events.

Jen and Sylvia Soska know all about the disparity. For the past year, the twin directors been working the worldwide film festival circuit promoting their sophomore effort, the one-of-a-kind, female-powered body horror film American Mary. "We've traveled more over the last year than we have all of our lives," says Sylvia. "It's weird, we were just in Chicago, and I woke up and didn't know where I was. Jen had to tell me, 'Relax, we're in Chicago.'" Having no sense of place isn't the only aftereffect of their endless hand-shaking, autograph signings, and posing for pictures with rabid horror fanatics. "I have the 'nerd flu,'" says Sylvia. "There are tens of thousands of nerds, and we all get together and talk about inconsistencies in writing and all sorts of nerd rage, and there's all kinds of hugging and photos taken. By the time you're done, you've swapped nerd breath with everybody, and then you get on the plane. You come back with something like nerd ebola."

Adds Jen, "It's like being trapped on a plane times 100, because there are thousands and thousands of people crammed into a little convention center. Somebody once told me to bring Purell whenever I go to those things, and it's true. I get sick every time I go." Not that they're complaining, though. "It's a beautiful problem to have, but you get used to eating when you can, no sleep, charging phone batteries wherever you can, and going to the bathroom in different places every time," says Sylvia. "But it's such a privilege to get to travel with our film and meet the people who support it. I don't have to do it alone, either. I always have Jen with me."

Which is nice, since, without her sister's attendance, Sylvia would be one of the few women fighting for attention and respect in a sea of dudes. With the critically hailed American Mary, however, the Soska sisters—also known as the Twisted Twins—are in an enviable position: They've earned the artistic adoration of the genre's top—yes, male—producers, programmers, critics, and journalists, but, more importantly, even louder praise and appreciation from their female peers, as well as the young girls who aspire to direct their own horror movies but can't find any accessible role models. "The twins are pretty damn unique, in that they're outspoken about showing other women that's not just OK, but really cool to love blood and guts," says American Mary producer John Curtis. "It's ingrained in them as part of their personalities. They look at it as not male and female, but as, 'Here's a cool genre that we love." They're filmmakers first, I think, and females second. And they want other women to feel the same way about themselves."

Through the Twisted Twins' steadily gaining emergence, can this issue, at least in the horror genre, begin a change toward the positive? In a series of loose, unfiltered conversations, Complex looks at the issue from a variety of angles, via the insight of the following industry players:

Jen and Sylvia Soska - writers/directors, American Mary

Jennifer Lynch - writer/director, Chained, Hisss, Surveillance, Boxing Helena

Danielle Harris - scream queen/actress, and director of Among Friends

Jennifer Blanc-Biehn- actress/producer/director

Shannon Lark and Heidi Honeycutt- founder and head programmer, respectively, of the Viscera Film Festival

Hannah "Neurotica" Forman- founder and head of operations, Women in Horror Month

Chris Alexander - editor-in-chief, Fangoria

Interviews by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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American Mary is, safe to say, unlike any other movie that'll hit theaters this year. Part satire, part dark comedy, and part mutilation-centric horror flick, it's a strange, vibrant hybrid about a financially strapped medical student, Mary Mason (Katherine Isabelle), who, in an effort to pay off student loans, reluctantly uses her education to excel in the world of underground body modification. Her biggest job, paying her $10,000: turning a stripper's friend, named Ruby Realgirl, into a full-blown "living doll." But then a traumatic run-in with one of her professors turns the previously well-meaning Mary into a college dropout with increased sexual confidence, a penchant for administering cruel and unusual punishment, and both the film's hero and villain.

It's an assured, audacious piece of work—and a drastic improvement over their scrappy, handmade 2009 debut, Dead Hooker in a Trunk—from a pair of filmmaking siblings who've still yet to reach their full potential. And that potential, on a much bigger scale, could be to put a newfound spotlight on women directors in horror.

Jen and Sylvia Soska, 30, are certainly making every effort to reach that kind of notoriety. The Vancouver natives are, as previously mentioned, genre convention/festival regulars, signing autographs, joining panels, doing Q&As, and attending screenings all while wearing matching outfits, often taken from their films (e.g., Mary's wardrobe in American Mary) and always provocatively designed. Fully utilizing social media, they retweet every single thing that's said and written about them by their devoted fan based, the "Twisted Twins Army," with whom they constantly interact. Anytime a blogger or journalist writes about them, the sisters reach out directly with a "thank you" note of some kind and promote the article on their Twitter account (@twisted_twins).

The Soskas are marketing and branding machines—and the horror community has taken notice. Jen and Sylvia recently signed on to participate in The ABCs of Death 2, a sequel to this year's ambitious, who's who of independent horror, 27-director anthology that, depending on who you ask, should have included Jen and Sylvia in the first place. Or, at the very least, more than two female directors in total. Their involvement in The ABCs of Death 2—along with the presence of Vanishing Waves director Kristina Buozyte—is an important step in a long journey towards remedying what many perceive to be inequality in the genre.

More so than most other women in horror, the Soskas have a strong chance of becoming horror's next, say, Eli Roth, the man behind Hostel and Netflix's Hemlock Grove (and one of the sisters' industry mentors). Yet, despite their burgeoning success, the twins are also familiar with the difficulties and prejudices that derive from being ladies working in a "boys club." Here, Jen and Sylvia get candid about those challenges and how they're able to persevere in spite of them.

The complete package the two of you bring is something that's been missing from not only the horror genre, but the movie industry in general. The movie is great, but you've also backed it up with intense marketing, strong branding, and tireless interaction with your fans.
Sylvia Soska: And it hasn't come easily. You wouldn't believe it, but we never fit in and were always teased constantly while growing up. Jen and I were outcasts. We loved horror, we loved gaming, and we loved superheroes. We had the weirdest interests, and we'd want to dress like the characters. Our mother just said, "Don't worry about what people say. If you want to dress like that, then do it." Finally we started writing and directing with the Twisted Twins Productions, and it all kind of fell into place. Even though we're really weird, it seems like that weirdness makes sense now.

Jen Soska: It's really a dream come true. If we weren't guests at festivals and conventions, we'd be attending them. The hardness thing about being at a convention is having a place where we're designated to stay, so people can find us and meet us, but we're such nerds that we want to run around, hug everyone in costumes, sexually harass them, and buy stuff.

Sylvia: We're the construction workers at any kind of convention. We holler and scream at everybody to come over. It's crazy when somebody comes over and says, "Oh, I'm CrazyAxeMurderer35 on Twitter," and I'm like, "Oh my god, dude! This is how you look in real life!"

Jen: It's so weird to be celebrated for liking the things we were bullied for growing up. I grew up loving comic books, and now nerds have inherited the earth. It's a very good time to be weird and nerdy.

Was there a nervousness at first to realize you were going to be celebrating the things you were bulled for?
Sylvia: I'm always so nervous and so socially uncomfortable. Jen is the opposite; she says I hide it very well, but I always feel like I'm drowning. I'm just always so uncomfortable with things, especially with American Mary because it's so personal. I've been so nervous that people would realize how personal it is, how there are so many elements of Jen's and my life in there. Seeing people and having people come over and make comments is a very different kind of experience, but if you don't do something that scares you, you're not going to be able to get outside of your comfort zone. I really did that with this film.

Jen: Also, in high school we realized at a certain point that we were never going to be a part of the popular, accepted people. That was fine with us. Not being the person you are is no way to live. When we went to the conventions and dressed up in our comic book costumes, I was actually shocked how behind it everyone was, how people reacted to us knowing intimate details about Spider-Man, and comic books, and horror movies. Growing up, we always stood up for people who were bullied and outcasted, and now that we're bigger and have some notoriety, we continue to do that on a much larger scale. Especially with our work with the LGBT and body-mod communities. Anyone who's an outcast, for an insane reason, we always protect them.


When I talk to people and they say they can't watch horror movies because they get scared, I say, 'God, didn't your mom tell you that it's all pretend?' - Sylvia Soska


Sylvia: We're really lucky that American Mary has resonated with people in the body-mod community, because there aren't many movies about this subject. There aren't many movies that tell them it's OK to be comfortable in their own skin, despite what society says is considered beautiful. It's really cool. If you think about it, the largest group of people out there are the people who feel like outcasts and feel like they don't fit in. I find that a lot of those people are in the horror and genre communities, and it's really nice to see that they're so nice and so supportive. The only reason that Jen and I were able to transition from Dead Hooker to this point is because people got behind all of the things we do, and they're really nice to us. I feel like the luckiest nerd on the planet.

Jen: As a horror fan, I wake up and feel like my life is a dream. If you told little me that all of the things I was made fun of for would be things that people love about Syl and I, and that I'd get to work in horror and people would actually watch our films and like them, little me would be like, "Nah, man…I just have to make it through the next day of high school."

It's interesting to note that your love for horror comes directly from a woman: your mother.
Sylvia: Yeah, we would watch horror movies together. When you're under the age of 18 by a decade, you can't really get to see them, but my mom never put a limit on us. When we were nine, she showed us Poltergeist, and at bedtime we freaked out, and then she did something that would forever change the way we look at horror movies: She told us how everything was made on a set, and that there was a script, a director, prosthetics, and she explained how all of these talented artists worked together with the intention of scaring people.

Once we found out it was all pretend, we went nuts, especially with the prosthetics. We then wanted to see the goriest stuff possible, because we knew it was all fake. we grew up watching those movies, always. My mom then made a new rule: If you read the book first, you can watch any movie you want. So we had all of these Stephen King books, and if we had any questions we would go to her and ask her. She always taught us to have a sense of what makes these stories relevant and what the themes are. That was just really normal to us; when I talk to people and they say they can't watch horror movies because they get scared, I say, "God, didn't your mom tell you that it's all pretend?"

Jen and I are also proudly failed actresses. We started when were seven, not because of any talent but because there were two of us. My dad always drove us to every audition and every set. Bless their hearts, our parents always supported whatever we did, no matter how crazy or wild it was. As a matter of fact, with American Mary, they remortgaged their house so they could be the first investors. They knew what the story meant to us. I feel so lucky that they gave us that faith and support, and even more lucky that my parents aren't going to lose their house because like the movie.

Did your experiences as struggling actresses directly influence your decision to become filmmakers?
Jen: Little girls are always encouraged to models, singers, and actresses, and there isn't enough encouragement to be writers, directors, or owners of your own production companies. From a very young age, we both loved being storytellers, but it never really occurred to us that if we wanted to really have control over the stories we told, we could be directors. It was really us writing roles for ourselves that were opposite from the roles we were being cast as. Being identical twins, we were always offered the slutty, poorly written roles. I have nothing against sex and violence, which you could have probably guessed, but if it's poorly written, then I have a huge problem with it, especially if the director is also the star and he basically writes about wanting to sleep with me and Syl in the script.

Sylvia: Some people aren't attracted to film for the arts. Some people look at it as a way to get laid by stupid people… With American Mary, that's our last on-camera role for awhile. We're just going to focus on behind-the-scenes now, especially with the next film.

Jen: A lot of times, for actors, you're so anxious to keep working that you start taking whatever roles are offered to you. In the future, if you're Robert Downey Jr., you can have full control over how you play your character, but not all of us are going to be Robert Downey Jr.

With its edgy subject matter and unconventional approach, was American Mary a tough film to get made?
Jen: It was. We actually went around to quite a few people to try to make it, and the hard thing was that everyone wanted to see it once it was finished, but no one wanted to be involved. Everyone wanted the first look once it was finished. They said the film was very Cronenbergian, which is a wonderful compliment unless you're trying to make the film. [Laughs.] David Cronenberg's films are always so unique, but I imagine that when he was trying to make Dead Ringers or The Fly, it was a little bit of a hard sell.

Sylvia: Almost everybody in Vancouver passed on it, and even the company that we did end up going through, IndustryWorks, they weren't 100% sure if we would be able to make it and get the support behind it. We wrote something that would have really benefited from $5 to $10 million, but we didn't have that. We had 15 days to shoot it, and no more than 12 hours a day. We had three weeks to cut it, and one week for sound. The whole process was with a gun to our heads.

Jen: It was difficult to find people who would invest in this film because our previous film was Dead Hooker in a Trunk, a balls-to-the-wall grindhouse homage that only cost $2,500. Many people looked at it and said, "Look at these first-time directors who have never been on a real set. How the hell can they go from that to American Mary?" There are people we met who said they'd make the film but they didn't want us involved as directors.

Sylvia: Especially with the content. It would be very easy to have it be a girl in her underwear, this very slutty thing, and lose all of the script's empowering aspects. We had so many people from mod community take part in the movie and look over the script. We owed it to them to make sure that the film became what we said it was.

What makes the film really unique is its heart. In a different filmmaker's hands, American Mary could have been something more exploitative toward both women and the body-mod community.
Jen: Syl's opening pitch was always, "Have you heard of body modification?" And the knee-jerk reaction was always that they've seen the genital mutilations, they've seen the 3D implants in faces, and they'd say, "Those people are disgusting, and you're going to be making a Saw or a Hostelfilm." We never wanted our film's intention to be pointing the freak-finger at the body modification community. because so often they're victims of modern-day witch hunts. People approach them from the news to do what they say are human interest stories, but then when they cut the stories together, they make them out to look like freaks.

Cosmetic surgery versus body modification, the only difference I see is that one, cosmetic surgery, is meant to make you fit into what the American ideal of what is beautiful, whereas body modification is meant to help people further their connections with themselves, or what their own idea of what is beautiful. You can't say that somebody filed down their teeth to fit in or to land a good, steady job at Starbucks. They made a pretty large life choice to feel the way they feel on the inside on the outside.

Sylvia: When I first read about body modification on the Internet, I got scared by it and thought what everyone else thinks about it. But my mom said, "If you're ever scared by something, educate yourself about it and you'll find that you aren't as scared by it anymore." Then, my fascination turned into admiration.

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I read an interview where one of you said you'd love for Mary to become an iconic character that young girls can dress up as for Halloween. She really is a fascinating character: She's strong, empowering, and unafraid to embrace her sexuality.
Jen: I think it's really insulting when a woman has to shy away from her sexuality, and right after what happens to Mary happens, the last thing we wanted to do was the cliche scene where she cries in the shower. There are women who don't run to a guy right away. Mary had to be so much stronger than any of female characters. Too often, women are portrayed as weak and vulnerable in so many films. One of the complaints we got about the Mary character was that she doesn't have that vulnerability, she doesn't seem sensitive, she's not forgiving, her actions aren't redeemable.

And the truth is that some of us women are just batshit. Like Elizabeth Bathory, people say that she couldn't have possibly done what she did because she's a woman, but that doesn't make it any different. Growing up, we wished that there was a Pinhead or a Jason Voorhees for women to dress up as for Halloween, but there never was. There was Ripley [in Alien], but she was just the hero, not both the antagonist and the hero. Mary is an evolution of the "final girl."

Sylvia: One of my favorite characters is Asami in Takashi Miike's Audition, played by Eihi Shiina. In so many films, if a woman becomes the villain, she's either possessed by a demon or takes on very masculine qualities. People say that women don't have the same capacity for evil that men do, but I'm a girl and I know all of the crazy shit that goes through my head sometimes. A big driving force behind American Mary was, wouldn't it be cool to show that crazy rage that women can have?

We met someone who said that her little girl had an American Mary-themed birthday party. That's fucking incredible. We're girls who grew up dressing like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez characters, so to hear that girls are dressing up as our characters? It blows my mind. There's nothing that could make me happier, except maybe having one of our characters become an action figure.

For young, aspiring women directors, there aren't many role models out there. There are a few, like Mary Lambert, Mary Harron, and Jennifer Lynch, but not nearly as many as young men have. All of undisputed genre icons, like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and George A. Romero, are men. Has that ever crossed your minds?
Jen: The funny thing is, not only did we see that, we realized that all of our own huge horror role models were men. Stephen King is a big role model for us, and he's the reason why we have such a sick sense of humor. Both Mary Lambert and Mary Harron are wonderful directors, but they you don't see them out there as much. "Horror" is this dirty word, where if you're dubbed as a "horror director," you're somehow below being a regular filmmaker.

Sylvia: I didn't know what American Psycho was, and they were in Toronto. The city was trying to ban the film from being filmed there, and one day I turned on the news and saw a piece about what was happening. I saw Mary Harron, this woman who who was speaking so eloquently and defending the artistry of her film while everyone was going completely nuts on her. I thought, wow, you would expect somebody who's making what people are calling this horrible, misogynistic film to not speak so eloquently and so intelligently, and have such thoughtful responses. I said to myself, "What is this movie? I have to see it." And then it turned out to be one of my favorite films.

It's always been difficult to find those role models, but I find the ones who are there to be a really big deal. We live in Canada; Rue Morgue is fucking awesome. Jovanka Vuckovic, to me, is the first lady of Canadian horror, and the fact that she is actually a friend of mine now, and that her short film, The Captured Bird, is playing with American Mary is a huge thrill for me. I'm so honored. But I would love it if, one day, when we're making a film that the novelty of us being twin sisters who make horror movies not to be such a big talking point. Some people say, "It's just a shtick," and other people say, "They're girls, and girls can't direct horror movies." It's just so backwards and primitive.

Have you encountered any misogyny in the industry firsthand?
Jen: It's always a touchy subject when you bring up the misogyny in this business, and I wonder if that has t do with the fact that you don't see a lot of women who continue working in horror as directors. They make one film and then disappear. American Mary itself is very much an analogy of what we've been through in the film industry, as actresses and also as director-writers. The scene where Mary gets invited to the party with doctors and surgeons—I've been to lots of parties with directors and producers where it became very evident that I wasn't there on the same level as them.

Unfortunately, in this business, people look at your gender and youth as negatives. If you're an attractive young woman, or even a young woman who tries to present herself as being on the same level as a man, with business suits and heels and trying to present ourselves nicely, people look at you as party favors. I hate to say it, but there are people who have come onto us and made our lives very difficult because we didn't reciprocate. We'll make it very clear that we're not going to be seen as party favors or sexual objects.

Sylvia: There have been some interviews where they'll ask us, "What have been some negative experiences you two have had?" We'll talk about this, and then that will be the one answer that doesn't make the cut in the final article, and it's like, fuck, we need to talk about this stuff. As long as we don't talk about it, it's going to keep existing. It happens, it really sucks, and we need a change. That said, we have gotten some amazing support from many men. Eli Roth has been so sweet to us. James Wan, Darren Lynn Bousman—these guys are so sweet. Clive Barker watched American Mary and he's the body horror god, and he was so kind and supportive. A lot of these guys are really excited to have women making horror movies. They're excited to have fresh perspectives.

Jen: It is really hard to get your film made, especially today, with the recession that's going on and the revolution of the digital age. Absolutely anybody can pick up a camera and become a filmmaker, so the emphasis has really become about the content, and that's where the emphasis should always be. It shouldn't be on your gender.

Whenever a young girl tells us that she wants to grow up and be like us, first we say to ourselves, "Oh my god, that's so fucking cool," but then it's also really sad. We'll tell her, "Make sure this is absolutely what you want to do," because it has the highest highs and the lowest lows. This is an industry that does attract a lot of monsters. There are people who prey on people who are young, inexperienced, and really hopeful about making it that they don't know any better.

In your photo shoots and in-person appearances at events, you two never shy away from your sexuality. There's a confidence in the way you present yourselves, from the outfits you wear to your attitudes. How important is it for the two of you to not shy away from your sexuality?
Sylvia: You shouldn't lose your feminine qualities just because you're afraid that some idiot is going to say something stupid. When I worked at Starbucks, and I had a T-shirt, khakis, and no makeup, I had a man who was 30 years my senior stalking me for two-and-a-half years until I got a peace order against him. There are going to be creeps and horrible people no matter what you do, and you shouldn't change who you are because you're afraid you'll attract monsters. Monsters will be attracted to you no matter what you do.

The biggest theme in American Mary is that appearances are everything. What does someone who looks like Jennifer or me have in common with people in the body modification community? Before anyone gets to know us, they make judgments about us based on our appearance. It's very important that we live that theme. Yes, we look this way, but get to know us. Talk to us. You might hate everything we represent, but at least we're not bullshitting you.

Jen: The way we dress at festivals and conventions is also the way we dress when we're walking to the corner store. When I go to Safeway, I look like a young Morticia Addams. I would never change the way that Syl and I present ourselves, and the way we feel comfortable and confident, just because some asshole is just going to categorize us as "fuckable" or "not fuckable" anyways. We're not doing this to impress people like that—we're doing it to spite people like that.

There are women who look at us and say, "If you wore a turtleneck and didn't try to attract as much attention, you would be much more respected," and that's absolutely insane. Those women are just as much a part of the problem as the men are. I've had women tell me, "You're a woman, so you shouldn't speak up against men so much because guys are always going to treat you like this. It's a male-dominated world." That's bullshit.

Any time I have to work a little harder to stand up against some chauvinistic, misogynistic pig, I think about how it will be just a little bit easier for a young girl who wants to be a director after me. I never, ever had one of my female role models in my life tell me about how sexist this industry is. I wish that somebody would have told me, "Just so you know, and it's not everybody, but there are people who are going to look at you as a young woman and just want to fuck you, or treat you like crap, or make you feel like you're lesser than them."


There's this quote that pisses me off: 'You have to be Jenna Jameson in the bedroom, Barbara Walters in the office, and Martha Stewart in the kitchen.' That's a lot of pressure. - Jen Soska


Sylvia: Actually, we did get some of that advice, but it wasn't a woman who told us. It was our feminist friend Eli Roth. He's such a great mentor for us. If something was going wrong on set, we would text him and he'd text us back with great advice. One of the things he told us is when we were dealing with some pigs was, "Be really careful, because people in this industry take rejection very poorly—if they don't get to fuck you in one way, they're going to fuck you in another way." That rings through my head when I'm dealing with a difficult asshole. There are some days when I ask myself why I picked this career, honestly, but it's rewarding when you see the chicks wearing aprons and saying, "I feel strong just like Mary."

Jen: It's such a bizarre double-standard. A man can be attractive, successful, intelligent, and capable, and he's a man in full. Look at Eli Roth—he's a very attractive man, but nobody looks at him in that way, or at least not the point where it's hurt his career in any ways. But if a woman is taking care of herself and is attractive, it's somehow not possible that she can be all of those things at once. There's this quote I heard once that pisses me off: "You have to be Jenna Jameson in the bedroom, Barbara Walters in the office, and Martha Stewart in the kitchen." Fuck, man! That's a lot of pressure.

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The horror community is often regarded as a "boys club." Do you find it's hard to network?
Jen: It is harder to network, but also, on the flipside, being two female twin directors who direct, write, and produce their own horror films, it's very easy for us to meet people. If we're at a convention, try not to meet us; if we're at a convention, you just try not to meet us. We are all over the place. Maybe if somebody's a little more reserved, it could be more difficult for them. If you're looking, as a woman, to find other women to speak with, it will be difficult..

Sylvia: After Dead Hooker in a Trunk, people didn't know what to expect. Some people loved it, a lot of people hated it. You could tell that we were just running around with $2,500, our friends, and a camera. After American Mary started screening, though, it was weird because I got a lot of apologies from people I know didn't like me, saying, "I'm sorry that I didn't give you the time of day, and that I didn't think you and your sister had much to offer as directors. I'm sorry about what I wrote and published about you."

My working mantra comes from the comic book Preacher. There's a villain named Herr Starr, and the panel starts with him saying, "Kill the women first," and it turns out that he's talking to his superiors about what to do in a terrorist situation. In his mind, if there's a female terrorist, not only is she trained as much as the men, she's trained so much so that they had to overlook her gender and let her be there. She's going to be the most deadliest person there and you have to destroy her first. She's going to be your most dangerous target. And I take that with me anytime I go into a meeting or networking. The first thing people notice is how you look, and you have to break that down to where it doesn't matter if you're wearing a pencil skirt and stilettos.

Being a white guy in this genre, trying to sell stuff, you disappear into everything. I'm lucky that Jennifer and I are very brandable. Branding and iconicness have always been very important to us. It helps us stick out from all the masses.

Jen: It's such a huge part of who we are, but I would also attribute that to us being jacks of all trades. We spent a lot of time doing promotions, and, of course, a lot of that was smiling and mindless waving, but it was also contingent on us approaching people. Once in a while, when we're going to an event, we'll decide whether or not we want to do the twin thing, where we dress the same and do our makeup the same. We usually do that if it's for a TV show or somewhere where people will see us at the same time.

Sylvia: Even when we were in high school, Jennifer and I always wore crazy superhero stuff, like snake prints and leather. I wear makeup because I don't always feel like a very confident girl, but Jennifer always says that our outfits are our body armor and our makeup is our war paint. Dressing up like that makes me feel stronger. To us, we're just foaming-at-the-mouth fangirls, but we've had people ask us, "Are you aware how you're presenting yourselves to the public?"

Anytime we work on set, we're wearing stilettos all day long, and people ask us why we're not wearing something more comfortable, and I'm like, "Well, if I can do an 18-hour day in stilettos, that dude over there in sweatpants should be able to do his day stilettos." When you're trying to spearhead a company or a brand, it all has to trickle down from who you are as a person. Sam Raimi always wears a suit when he's directing, and I've always thought that's so cool. I want to have that kind of reputation.

Jen: It would be beautiful if we lived in a world where your art spoke for itself, but we live in a world that's all about social media and online. People have a desire to connect with the artists. You see directors like James Gunn and Eli Roth who are very active on social media. Even Clive Barker, if you look at his Tumblr you can see tons of beautiful young men all painted up. If I hear an independent director or artist say, "Why isn't it working for me?" I'll say to them, "Well, you're not putting yourself out there." If someone doesn't have time for Facebook or Twitter, they don't have time for their career then.

People want to know who you are. If you're just a guy in T-shirts and jeans, there are a billion guys in T-shirts and jeans. Maybe it's a Captain America shirt, or maybe it's a shirt that says, "My other shirt is your mom." The most successful bands have great music, sure, but they also have looks that distinguish them. It comes from our geekiness and our love for superheroes—we want to have a costume. If you look at Spider-Man, people get pissed off whenever his costume changes, because it's something you know. It's a symbol, and you should be a symbol for your art.

I can tell what I imagine Tarantino looks like that if he goes out. Look at our hero, Robert Rodriguez—he always has the cowboy hat on. They become this icon for their art. If you don't have that, and you're unable to put your personality into your art, there are just so many other people who areable to do that. Everybody out there has something weird about them, and they want to be able to see that there's somebody else out there who's the same way.

Now that American Mary is making tons of noise, and it's even being distributed internationally by Universal Pictures, has Hollywood been calling?
Sylvia: Yes and no. A company like Universal distributed the film internationally. It was really cool to see a big company like that have the same soul as us indie brats. They're like, "I do this because I love filmmaking," like Mike Hewitt from Universal. He's the same guy who fought for A Serbian Film and fought for it. But some people don't get it.

I read this horribly depressing article about a script doctor who goes over your script and changes everything to make it have similar qualities to blockbusters. For example, if you have a demon, it's more interesting if it's been following someone, like in Paranormal Activity, instead of being summoned. It's the bane of creativity. I think there are only going to be two types of movies in the future: the big soulless, carbon-copied, money-sucking movies made solely to get bums in the seats, like how The Amazing Spider-Man seems like a ripoff of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movies, and some executive said, "Let's make him angsty like Twilight." And it's like, dude, no one read Spider-Man because he was this hot, emo babe who got all the girls.

Jen: What Hollywood films really have is the money for marketing. There's this piece-of-shit film from last year called Fun Size, and one of our favorite games to play when we go to Los Angeles is to pick out the films that have the most and biggest billboards and advertising, because, usually, like with Fun Size, they're the absolute worst films being made. But what smaller independent films have is social media. They have the artists, casts, and crews putting everything they have into connecting with the people.

I wish we could say more about the people we've been approached to work with, but I will say that studios have really negative reputations, where someone will say, "I want to stay independent so I'm not controlled by anyone." But I would love to work with studios. There are a lot of studios that are into doing things that are creative. I loved The Avengers, I loved Pitch Perfect.

Sylvia: I can't say who exactly will be on-board for our next movie, Bub, which is our original monster movie. The tagline is, "There is a monster inside all of us, and sometimes it gets out." Because of what we've been able to do, a lot of people are excited. Bub is a script I think a lot more people can get behind; it's not as niche as body modification, but it's also very much our tastes and sensibility.

It's really cool because I'm having meetings in offices I'd never thought I would ever be in, looking at the things they've done in the past and realizing their films are the reasons why I got into filmmaking.

Do you anticipate it being even harder for to make name for yourselves in the studio system, where it's famously more difficult for women than the independent scene?
Jen: We've had meetings with women who've had to climb very high to get into positions of power at studios, and they say, "I see myself 10 years ago in the two of you girls, and that's why you're in here. If there weren't people who gave me the opportunities at that age, I wouldn't be where I am today. I love to see women who are fighting hard for what they do." I really do wonder how many women would still be working in this industry if they didn't come against those walls of youth and gender.

Sylvia: We were at a meeting with this very well-known company, and they were like, "Oh, they like you and everything, and they like the script—is there a role for the producer's girlfriend?" I started laughing and asked, "Can she act?" The answer was, "No, but she's very pretty and it can be green-lit immediately if you give her a starring role." Fuck, man—I'm not going to be that person. I can't do that. But that exists.

Do you think a change is coming?
Jen: There is a change coming. You see a lot of men who are real feminists too. One of my favorite directors is Joss Whedon, and he was famously quoted as saying, after someone asked him why he always writes strong female characters, "Because you're still asking me that question." I was very awkward growing up, and Buffy was one of those things that made me feel stronger and that I could take on the demons in my own life.


With so much negativity out there, it's so easy to get dissuaded and think that nothing will ever change. Even if it doesn't happen, the thing that will happen is that there will always been men and women fighting for that change. - Sylvia Soska


It's a really inspiring, great time for your young girls who want to become artists of any kind. We get letters from young girls saying they want to become prosthetic artists, or writers, or directors, and how they didn't think they could do it until they read an interview of ours where we said anybody can do it. At the very end of Rebel Without a Crew, Robert Rodriguez writes, "Go make your movie. I'll watch it, and I'll bring the popcorn."

Sylvia: With so much negativity out there, it's so easy to get dissuaded and think that nothing will ever change. Even if, in my lifetime or Jen's lifetime, it doesn't happen, the thing that will happen is that there will always been men and women fighting for that change. We still have problems with racism, with sexism, and with same-sex issues, but right now you're seeing a lot of people speaking up about things.

I remember one time when somebody asked me to name my 10 favorite female directors, and we were only able to name eight, and we couldn't name any actresses turned directors. It's really hard. It's not that they don't exist, it's that the media on them isn't out there.

I feel really lucky that Jennifer and I were born as the spectacles that we are: identical twins who make horror movies. Regardless of what your opinion on anything is, people are drawn to that. There's a curiosity, oddity factor involved with us—we're very aware of that. But we also know that it's something that puts a spotlight on us and allows us to make films and try our best to bring about a change. There are a lot of us little rebels out there who want to see things change. Maybe if Jennifer and I keep having success, then other people will see that and want to hire other female filmmakers. That's really the goal here.

The Veteran

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Jennifer Lynch doesn't make "easy" films. The 45-year-old provocateur—the daughter of acclaimed filmmaker David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive)—has a thing for the sordid. She made that perfectly clear back in 1993, when her directorial debut, Boxing Helena (about an obsessive surgeon who amputates the arms and legs of a car crash victim and holds her captive), riled up critics and signaled the arrival of a bold, no-fucks-given new voice.

Now four films into her career, Lynch released what's inarguably her best film to date last year in Chained, an incredibly dark, disturbing, but impressively character-driven look at a serial killer (Vincent D'Onofrio) who uses his cab driver profession to lure young girls into his clutches, brings them to his secluded home, and makes his young protege (Eamon Farren), whom he's kept shackled in his house for nearly a decade, clean up his "messes."

Unsurprisingly, though also unfairly, Lynch's films have been attacked for being "misogynistic," and "sadistic." As she sees it, though, those labels wouldn't be in the conversation if a man had directed Boxing Helena and Chained. And, as she explains here, that's a double standard that needs to go away.

Is this lack of female directors in horror something you've thought about over the years?
I was just at the Stranger With My Face festival, in Tasmania, and that was a kick-and-a-half. The funny thing was, I didn't know it was all women until we got there and someone said it to me. In my consciousness, it's not like there's a shortage—I'd just assumed that women were more interested in making films about other things. But when people say that they're surprised to see me as a female making horror films, my first response is, "God, weren't you in high school? Women can be terrible." It's not so shocking that women do this or that they're proficient at it. Put it this way, fear and terror are not solely in the consciousness of men.

For me, it was a surprise that all of my films were seen as horror; I thought of them as psychological thrillers with horror elements. It's never been something that I thought about until recently. In general, people think of filmmaking as a boys club, and I've never seen it that way. I'm always surprised when people call out my gender as a surprise or an extra added benefit to what I do. I don't walk up to Steven Spielberg and say, "Boy, you're a great male director." So to be called a "female director" seems unnecessary.

The reason I loved the Tasmania fest was that it wasn't a bunch of women saying, "Oh, look at this thing I, a female, made!" It was more like, "Wow, there are a lot of us doing this—let's watch each other's films." It wasn't self-pitying in any way. The mistake that people often make when they're doing a female thing is that it gets too feminist, and that's totally unnecessary. It makes it really tough for anyone else to go see it. It becomes more combative. I hate the whole boys-against-girls thing. It should be celebration of the different eyes that we all have, not about our differing genitals.

Have you ever encountered any close-mindedness or added pressure because you're a woman?
If I've encountered anything, it's that I get so much crap for being David Lynch's daughter. That and the female thing have both died down since I've been making films more regularly. When Boxing Helena came out, though, they were very quick to call me a misogynist and all sorts of terrible things. What's crazy about that is, had a man made Boxing Helena, those things never would have been said. That movie didn't have any blood or gore—it was a fairy tale I made, but people chose instead to see it as this touchy-feely horror film. It somehow made people think that I hated women, which is absurd.

Currently, the only place I encounter any kind of attention drawn to me being female is in screenings. I get a lot of people saying, "How could you do that? How did you, as a woman and mother, find yourself able to tell this brutal story?" To me, hearing that kind of question squeezes the human being out of my body. I've lived for 45 years—that's how I did it. I'm surprised most people aren't making films about these kinds of things. It is fantasy, and I'm telling a story, so I go full-bore into telling a story, even if it's as tough and disturbingly real as something like Chained. I'm not building, or, more aptly for this discussion, giving birth to, a human who I'm going to set loose into the world—I'm making a movie. But people think it must be hard for me as a woman and mother to do something as dark as that.

My life is a very happy one—I laugh everyday, and I'm all kinds of fucking grateful for the friends and family I have. As a result, then, my curiosities are in the darker side of things. I've had my share of darkness, but I'm much more curious about darker places that I'm not in all the time. And that's human, not male or female. Nobody asked Eli Roth how he could make Hostel—they just applauded him for it, and Hostel is far more grotesque and exploitative than Chained. I don't cut people into little pieces and watch them die slowly, so why are people asking me questions that they don't ask someone like Eli?

I wonder where there isn't a moment when, after the person asks me that question, where they say, "Wait a minute, I'm sorry, I don't know why I asked that question." They're socially conditioned to think that way. Maybe it's more frivolous when a man does it, but when a woman does it, it can be more real. I'm not sure what that is, but there's something very strange to me about the questions I get that I know men do not get.

This is why I can't think about anything other than telling the story when I'm making a film. I try to tell stories the ways that I would like to be told them, so I try to tell them intelligently, I want to be scared differently, and, to me, the biggest gift any kind of frightening film can give me is the sense that I should be paying attention to different things in the world once I walk out of the theater. Maybe that guy in the grocery store line behind me isn't as normal as I think he is based on his appearance—who knows what his damage is. That's, to me, the gift of what cinema does.

You've been known for not taking any crap from anyone, but often times women are labeled as "bitches" when they're aggressive like that.
That's true, but it's interesting, I usually encounter people being strangely appreciative of how I ask for things. I consider what I'm doing a collaborative medium. Ultimately, I'm the kill switch, I decide what is going to happen and what won't happen, but I am working with a bunch of artists, not puppets. And when I ask for something, I ask for it for the project, not to take away from anybody else. I come at this from a collaborative point-of-view, so I've never encountered that "bitchy" thing, though I do hear women say it a lot.

It's the mother issue. If mom asks you to take the garbage out, suddenly she's not the woman you want to snuggle with. It's the human condition. Most people wouldn't say to a male director, or about a male director, "What a dick, he asked me to move that chair." If a woman asks, she's suddenly picky.

Like my father always says, "My little daughter—the mouth of a sailor and a heart of gold." [Laughs.] I've never really had a hard time interacting with men. The funny thing is, the more weight I put on, the less my gender becomes an issue. There's no sex in the room anymore. For the less foul-mouthed female, perhaps that's something they feel alienated by. There's a sort of "bros before hoes" in every business, and I think that will the change as we evolve more. Sometimes, the best person for the job is the one with the uterus.

You've been working in the industry for 20 years now. A big issue that comes up when people discuss women filmmakers is the disparity between what they get paid as opposed to men's salaries. Do you see that as a reality?
Definitely. I've never gotten paid what men get paid, except for TV episodes. I think I'm just about to reach the point where that's no longer an issue, because I now have a body of work that suggests something. People are more willing to give money to men, and I don't think it's a conscious thing people do.

By Hollywood's standards, I've made a bunch of small films, and Surveillance and Chained are examples that you don't need a lot of money to make a picture well; Chained, for example, was $750,000 and shot in 15 days. We all made what we could make, right? But people are more inclined to say, "Hey, I really like your script, fella, so here's $10 million," but to a female they'll say, "I really like your script, I'm so surprised—here's $4 million." I don't know what that is, but that's an unconscious statement. I don't think anybody's doing that maliciously.

And that's why you don't see any women making Hollywood blockbusters.
When people are dealing with money, they're very careful. They look at their investment and think, Will this make me any money? Money-people aren't necessarily creative people, so they're not looking at the project and thinking about all of the great things they can do with it—they're thinking more about how a woman director will effectively create the project and how many risks are involved on their end.


Most people wouldn't say to a male director, or about a male director, 'What a dick, he asked me to move that chair.' If a woman asks, she's suddenly picky.


It's a funny time in the business, too. What women have to pay attention to, too, is that, whether you're male or female, at this point you're either making a $100 million film or you're making a $1 million film. You're either making what's considered a low-budget film or you're making blockbusters, and I hope that changes. Because of the recession and the great killer, fear, people either want to throw everything into comic book movie or they want to be very careful about investing in a bunch of smaller films and hope they pay off. That's with men or women. Women should be careful not to look at that as evidence that they're being persecuted.

I don't walk around everyday thinking, If only I had a dick. I'm thinking, How can I pay my rent more easily? I only think about this issue when people ask me about it, but it's definitely there. There is an undeniable glass ceiling here, but it's breaking. Had Kathryn Bigelow not made The Hurt Locker and made something that wasn't deserving of an Oscar, I would have been scared. I would have thought they were just tossing us women a bone. But she made a great film. Hopefully in the next 10, 20, we'll look back on and think it was funny that we ever looked at things as male and female directors, instead of just plain-old directors.

There seems to be hope on the horizon, at least in Hollywood. Aside from Kathryn Bigelow's successes, you've got Kimberly Peirce directing the upcoming Carrie remake.
I think that's a smart thing. Some smart studio exec said, "Oh, let's get a woman to do it." That's another selling tool for them. Right now it's still cool, it's still a big deal. If a movie does well, it's cool to say that a girl made it. Look at Diablo Cody co-writing the new Evil Dead—ooh, it's so cool! [Laughs.] I don't bash my head about it, because we're all watching things evolve. It's slowing us down and making us neglect the beauty of the filmmaking process.

If you asked five different people to make the same movie, you'd get five different movies, and that's the beauty of directing. Let's get three men and two women, or two men and three women, or one hermaphrodite with two men and two women and see what they can all do.

The Scream Queen Turned Director

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After 25 years in the business, Danielle Harris has finally found herself. Not that she's been working aimlessly—in fact, the 35-year-old "scream queen" hasn't stopped to catch her breath since she made her acting debut, at the age of 10, in 1988's Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, followed a year later by Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. Before returning to the Myers world in both of Rob Zombie's recent Halloween films (2007, 2009), Harris worked in every other genre, including comedy (Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead), action (The Last Boy Scout), and kid-friendly cinema (Free Willy). Once Zombie's '07 Halloween remake debuted, though, Harris' reign as one of horror's most beloved actresses kicked into high gear and has yet to slow down.

Until now. This August, Harris' first film as a director, the horror-comedy Among Friends, will hit DVD shelves, signaling the beginning of the Queens native's career transition into becoming a filmmaker first, and actress second. Set in the 1980s, Among Friends shows what happens at one of the worst dinner parties imaginable, one in which old pals start doing terrible things to one another as personal secrets get exposed.

Initially, Among Friends represented the chance for Harris to express herself artistically in a new way, but the production's biggest aftereffect was something she didn't anticipate: Having previously deferred to male directors in the past, Harris was able to call all of the shots, and, in the process, gained a new, profound sense of self-worth and heightened confidence. Something she—like fellow scream queens turned directors Debbie Rochon and Jessica Cameron—would advise any hard-working actress in the horror realm, women who've gone topless, ran through woods screaming, and fake-died too many times in other people's movies.

You bring an interesting perspective to this discussion, being that you're a veteran actress who's tirelessly worked in the horror genre.
It's really interesting, because most of the leads in these movies are women. I've always noticed that, with all of the male directors who've directed me, there was this lack of understanding about the emotional journey that a woman goes through during something as traumatic as what happens to a woman during one of these movies. That's one of the reasons why I wanted to direct. I wasn't really getting that, and I didn't know if it was because these guys were fans of mine who didn't want to tell me how to do something. I'm still an actor, though, and I want to be challenged, and I wasn't getting that. As a director, I was able to talk to my actors, who were mostly female, and get them to go to these deeper places emotionally. I wasn't able to do that with the help of most of the male directors I've worked with.

Sexualizing stuff becomes an issue too. Listen, I've done a lot of love scenes, and I've done nudity in movies, and there's this unavoidable, undeniable awkwardness. As a woman, though, I'm able to get in there during a scene like that and the actresses trust me.

Your directorial debut, Among Friends, has a predominantly female cast and mostly women working behind the scenes. Was that a conscious decision?
There was some statistic recently that said that only 18% of the people behind the camera are women. When I see a woman who's a grip on set, I say, "Hell yeah!" I'm not quite sure what's stopping us besides ourselves. I've definitely heard women say, "I don't have a voice," whereas men don't care about that. On Among Friends, there were three women producers and myself as the director. It's really hard when you have all women.

There's an emotional component to the filmmaking process that maybe some women shouldn't expose themselves to. Maybe some women shouldn't be in the business. You have to have a big fucking set of balls. I'm a woman director who's looking for $1 million but I'm not bringing $1 million to the table. I've got to go in there, sell this movie, get someone to give me a check for $1 million and make them believe that they're going to get five times that much back, if not 15. I have to have them trust me, so that means I have to go in there with 100% confidence. I can't be a yes-girl. I can't roll over and say, "Whatever you want," which is what I think a lot of women do. That's what I did, honestly, for my first movie. There was a lot of me just being happy to have the opportunity and not realizing that you have to have a voice. You have to fight.

You weren't as demanding on set, due to the insecurities of being a first-time director?
Not to be cheesy, but I watched Beyonce's documentary, and she had one line in there where she said something like, "I don't get anywhere in life by being polite," and she's right. There's a way to be professional, but you have to open up your mouth, and some women are just happy to have the opportunity and don't want to jeopardize that.

I remember when I was shooting Among Friends, something wasn't going according to plan. Quentin Tarantino is a friend of mine, and somebody on my set said, "If this was happening on Quentin's set, what would he do?" And I said, "He would fucking fire everybody." And they said, "Well, why aren't you?" I was like, "Well, because…you know…I don't know." And I don't mean Quentin now—I mean Quentin back in the day. I don't know why women feel like we have to say, "I understand why you're doing this," when it should be, "No, dude, just fucking get it done." I'm not going to be so nice the next time around.


Originally, I would say, 'Oh, that's great, you want to be a part of your project!' But I've had to take a step back and go, 'OK, I bring some kind of value to the table,' and I had to learn that through directing my first movie.


I definitely was excited for the opportunity. We literally got the money in our bank six days before we were going to shoot, and we shot the movie in 10 days, and we had seven leads cast in every scene. We had three cameras, a crew there for basically free, and sometimes you get what you pay for. It's like having eighth graders mixed with Harvard grads, so it's very difficult to put that level of people with newer people, but everybody has to learn. It definitely was incredibly challenging, and I knew I only had certain things available to me. I learned a lot, like not shooting a movie in such a cramped, rushed period of time.

God love [Among Friends producer] Jennifer [Blanc-Biehn], but she recently approached me with, "We have something that we'd love for you to direct. It's super low-budget and has a really quick shooting schedule." I wrote back with, "No thanks." [Laughs.] To me, that's not an opportunity—that sounds like hell again. I need a production company, I need seasoned people that can get it done. I'm going to be a producer next time. It needs to flow a little bit differently, but I leaned so much that I wouldn't change anything about it. I learned more on that movie than I did any other movie in my entire career.

It seems like directing your first movie has given you an all-new level of confidence.
Absolutely. That's why I said you have to go in there and own your shit. I think that's why I've been more successful inside the genre than out of it, because I know when I walk into the room, there's nobody better than me for the role. When it comes to horror, I know this, and I feel that way about directing to now. I know that I'm a kick-ass director. I think I'm a better director than I am an actor, and I think I'm a pretty good actor.

The script that I'm optioning out now, it's been around for awhile and the screenwriter has had some very big people interested, and she's said no. I got her on the phone and told her my vision of it, and she got excited about it, saying, "I hope you get to make my movie," and I told her, "Oh, I'm going to make this movie, I'm telling you, by the end of the year," and she said, "I know you are." I have no doubt that I'll make it. I'm going to find the money within the next two months. I don't think a lot of women have that confidence.

Especially if they feel like most men are looking at them sexually, not professionally.
I'm an actor, so I'm coming into it from having so much previous experience in the business. You just don't know. You're just like, "Eh, this guy's full of shit," but that's just from being a woman in general. As an actress, I had other actress friends who had those casting couch situations—I fortunately never had that happen, but I definitely had friends who were meeting with the directors, producers, and bigger stars of movies and were asked to go have meetings with drinks or in private places, and I would say, "Don't fuck him. If you fuck him, you're never going to get the job. I'm telling you right now, if you don't fuck him, he's probably going to cast you."

Listen, if I walk into a room as a director to pitch my script to financiers and they find me attractive, I'll probably get my money more than if they don't find me attractive, and, oh, well. You don't have to fuck them, but I'm more than happy to have them give me the budget for my movie. They can think whatever they want—for me, it's all business. But that's just men. It happens. It's not going to stop me from making my movie.

Has being a scream queen worked to your advantage, in terms of getting people to pay attention to Among Friends?
I maybe don't have the "Is this girl for real?" thing because I'm an actor and I'm already known and have that established kind of respect. But I do have a little bit of that, "Oh, she's an actress who's trying to direct, like they all want to do." That's what I'm afraid they're thinking, and the other thing is I look so young and that I'm tiny. They can be like, "Oh, good for you! You're so cute!" And my response to that, "I'll fucking rip you right now. I'll destroy you on set, so don't think I'm so cute, because I'm not." Maybe I have short-man complex, I don't know, but I don't want to be stereotyped as some cute little actress who's trying to direct. I know what I'm doing.

The fact that I was able to make Among Friends for nothing, in 10 days, and sell it to Lionsgate and Anchor Bay Canada and pull that movie out of my ass the first time out of the gate, they're like, "Wow, that's awesome." Now they're listening. I just hired an attorney, and me going in there, saying I have something I want to option, knowing that I have nothing to lose—I don't give a fuck anymore. I don't care. I don't need a career anymore. I'm getting married, I want to have babies. I could be done with all of this and be super-happy that I've had an amazing run. I don't feel panicked about anything.

Directing Among Friends has woken me up to my own self-worth. I had a meeting with an attorney the other day, and he said, "You've got to be careful because your next movie could make or break you. You have to hire an amazing editor and an amazing DP. If it doesn't work, you could have a hard time finding another job." I was like, "No, no, no. Hang on a second—no, it won't. A, I'll never let that happen, and, B, I will always be able to work. Somebody will always give me another opportunity. I don't have to direct the winner of Sundance to be recognized. I will always be able to direct and act. There's no make-or-break—I'm already made, and I don't worry about being broken."

I may not make a movie that everybody likes, I may not make the next great Paranormal Activity franchise. It'd be awesome if Saw happened, but am I looking for it? No. Would I rather make a movie like Spring Breakers? Yes.

What has been the biggest impact you've felt from directing Among Friends?
It was the experience of making Among Friends that made me stop and say, "Wow, I didn't realize that I had a voice in this world." I started off with the attitude of, wow, I get to direct! And then I started noticing how certain festivals didn't want the movie unless I came with it. I was thinking, Oh, it's the fact that made the movie that's getting people interested in it. I get it now. I didn't see the value that I brought to it; I was just excited that the producers trusted me with money to make a movie, but I realized that they know I'm marketable.

Now, I don't think that people who cast me in movies necessarily think I'm an amazing actress—they know that they'll probably get more money if they sell a movie with my name attached to it. Originally, I would say, "Oh, that's great, you want to be a part of your project!" But I've had to take a step back and go, "OK, I bring some kind of value to the table," and I had to learn that through directing my first movie. It's not an ego thing—I know I can make things happen on my own. And now I'm doing it on my own.

I've come a long way from thinking people only wanted me because they liked the way I die in movies, or because they grew up watching me in Halloween 4. That's what I thought of myself. Now, it's, "Oh, fuck—they're not hiring me because they like me. They're hiring me because they want to make money.

The Producer

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Fact: Many of your average genre enthusiast's favorite movies wouldn't exist if it weren't for a few exceptional women. Take John Carpenter's Halloween, for example—bet you didn't know it was produced and co-written by a woman, Debra Hill, who also shard screenwriting credits on Carpenter's horror classic The Fog (1980). And how about Gale Anne Hurd? These days, the Hollywood super-producer is instrumental behind the scenes of AMC's The Walking Dead, but back in the '80s, Hurd—a major reason why James Cameron has become the cinematic demigod that he is today—produced The Terminator and Aliens, leading into future projects like Tremors, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Armageddon.

Though she's working on a much smaller scale, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn is taking cues from women like Hill and Hurd. Along with her husband, actor Michael Biehn, the 39-year-old, NYC-bred renaissance woman oversees Blanc Biehn Productions, the genre-leaning company responsible for the well-received 2011 grindhouse throwback The Victim, Danielle Harris' Among Friends, and nine forthcoming films, including her sci-fi/horror directorial debut, The Night Visitor.

Blanc-Biehn's transformation into a hustling producer comes after nearly 20 years working as an actress. That time spent in front of the camera gave her the perspective necessary to take her career into her own hands and personally create all-new kinds of roles and projects.

You've worked as both a producer and a director now. Has it been difficult to prove yourself in either position?
I was in the editing room for my first movie as a director, The Night Visitor. I've been producing since The Victim [2011], and I've gotten the hang of it. As a producer, I'm sort of this high-strung, aggressive person, but as a director I'm much quieter. I surround myself with guys, and they're all great, but I've been noticing that they all defer to each other whenever I'm making a decision. I have to stand up and go, "Dude, I'm the director—look at me!" And it's interesting, because then I feel like an asshole, but if it was a guy, nobody would think twice about him standing up and demanding that kind of respect.

Someone like Sherry Lansing is really interesting. She's shot to the top as a producer, and she's known as really nice, really beautiful, and she's married to William Friedkin, but she's also known as being a tough, strong woman. She's probably just that way because she's a woman. Look at Billy Friedkin, though—he's made the most influential horror film of all time, The Exorcist, and he's widely known to be very aggressive on his sets. But if a woman was acting like that, it would be so out of control. People would be calling her a lesbian.

The thing that men like about women is a little more demure, more sexual. I definitely have all of that in my personality, but I also have the more aggressive side, and that's when I start getting scared. I wonder if people think I'm being too aggressive or too angry. I'm trying to find that happy medium between being strong, standing on my own two feet, and not being thought of as a ball-buster type of person.

In what ways can being a woman benefit you as a producer?
Michael and I are doing a remake of this movie Hidden in the Woods, and the subject matter is about rape, drug trafficking, and female survival. A lot of people, when they see this subject matter, get very freaked out. I think it's actually helping us to have a woman, me, producing it, because I can get in there and say, "Look, this, this, and this happened to me as a child, and I still want to produce this. Here's the deal: We're talking to abuse charities and trying to get the support from that community, so it won't be gratuitous."


I'm always cast as the party girl, or the stripper, or the crazy chick, but I can play a lawyer too. Now that I'm producing, that can actually happen.


Having a woman behind a project like that can help the situation. Having that feminine side helps people see that women can get behind this stuff, as fans; the flipside is, if it's all men trying to sell you on it, it can be seen as torture porn or exploitative.

Women aren't pussies. In fact, some women can be way more hardcore than men. In Danielle's movie, there's a lot of sexual content that involves me and other cast members., but you don't see a lot of it. Still, it's very uncomfortable to watch, and I think a woman like Danielle is able to handle that kind of implication really well, whereas a guy might've directed that movie and shown it all.

Did you become a producer in response to not seeing the kinds of women roles in genre films that you'd like to see?
After Michael filmed The Divide, he and I were really impressed by how the director, Xavier [Gens], shot that movie with such freedom. We wanted to take control of what we were doing. And then this opportunity to make The Victim fell into our laps, and we wrote it in three weeks and shot in 12 days, and that was my first shot at producing. It gave me the opportunity to play the lead heroine in a movie that's sort of a throwback to grindhouse-era exploitation, and not have to rely solely on the character's sexuality. I got that taste of it, and from there I wanted to do it again. I'm always cast as the party girl, or the stripper, or the crazy chick, but I can play a lawyer too. Now that I'm producing, that can actually happen.

The horror community is looked at as a boys club, but I'd imagine that's even more so the case for a producer.
It is male-heavy, but I think there's something about the horror fans that feels very appreciative of women. As far as the horror filmmakers, I don't think it's as much of a boys' club as people think, but it's definitely one when it comes to the hierarchy of distribution. There is certain content they need to see in order to think it will sell, and that's usually tits and ass.

I've been very lucky because Michael has been a real supporter. He looks like the kind of guy who would be in that boys' club, but he's really not. Because he's such an intense presence, people are a little nervous with him, so I'm protected. Our latest investor really only defers to me, actually, and that makes me feel good, because there have been many times when I'll notice that people ignore me and go straight to Michael or whatever other guy I'm working with.

I just hit 39, and when I younger, all I thought about was, Yeah, I want to be cute, sexy, and show my boobs, but now that I'm getting older, I want the respect and I want to be able to show people that I have as much to offer, if not more, than a man.

The Organizers

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Each year, in July, women who make horror movies gather for their very own Sundance. Founded by actress/filmmaker Shannon Lark in 2007, the Viscera Film Festival takes over Hollywood's Egyptian Theater for a day's worth of short films made by women, networking events, Q&As, a red carpet ceremony, and a guest speaker (last year's was Pet Sematary director Mary Lambert). For the festival's programming needs, Lark calls upon her close friend Heidi Honeycutt, a prolific blogger and journalist who's written for magazines like Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland and, in 2004, launched the first-ever female-minded horror website, Pretty Scary, a precursor to her current site, Planet Etheria, dedicated to, naturally, women who direct horror.

Originally an online festival, Lark's brainchild has evolved into more than just a showcase of movies it's a steadily growing movement. Through the Viscera Organization, she and her team also host Honeycutt's science-fiction-and-fantasy-geared Etheria Film Festival, the action fest Full Throttle, and the Women in Horror Month, an initiative that's dedicated to throwing events, education seminars, and pushing for press outreaches for female directors every February, spearheaded by Hannah "Neurotica" Forman.

Don't try telling Lark or Honeycutt that there aren't many women making horror movies—based on the hundreds of film submissions they sift through every year, they're perhaps more knowledgable about the ever-expanding number of aspiring female filmmakers than anyone. And they're determined to let the world know about every single one of them.

What were the initial motivations behind the Viscera Film Festival?
Shannon Lark: Heidi and I were already colleagues, so she started helping me find filmmakers. I wanted to do something completely different, and I didn't feel like there was a proper platform for female filmmakers to not only have a strong platform to show their films but also to be recognized specifically for what they were doing. We started doing this tour and started working with other film festivals who would show these films as a block, or just one showcase. That got these films into film festivals all around the world, to where they were collecting awards, and people were becoming more and more aware of not only the filmmakers themselves but also Viscera.

Heidi Honeycutt: Shannon and I knew each other from being around the horror film industry. She presented the idea to me, and when we first started, we had 10 films. I didn't go to school for film programming, so I asked my friends if we could use their films. At the time, there was really no way for women to connect with each other and network. If a woman's film wasn't getting covered on a horror website like Bloody Disgusting, then how would you hear about them?

Lark: We have over 30 people on staff, and it's all volunteer. They work all year around. This past February, we had around 50 Women in Horror Month "Ambassadors." They educate the audiences on all of the underrepresented female professionals working in the horror genre, in the past, present, and future. People who are coming up and people who have already established their careers. And we continue to tour throughout the year; we do university screenings, we do traditional movie houses. We do art galleries, we do museums.

It's really about providing amazing content to the public and making them realize that they need to be supporting not only female genre filmmakers but also female filmmakers in general. The more awareness we create and the more education we provide to these women, the more likely they're going to be able to access equal opportunity and pay. They have to demand it.

The festival seems to get bigger and bigger each year. What do you have in store for this summer's edition?
Lark: We're working with the Egyptian Theater again, in association with the American Cinematheque. We'll have an entire weekend of festivities, and we're launching a new service that's really exciting. The Masters of Horror had the TV series but also these Masters of Horror dinners. Mick Garris [creator of Masters of Horror] is an exceptionally nice guy, and basically there was a lack of women at their dinners, and that was the result of networking opportunities being unavailable to women. Women mostly work in low-budget independents, so the bigger mainstream projects that would put them alongside the Masters of Horror guys just aren't accessible.

A few women have been at those dinners, but not many. We've created a service called the Mistresses of Horror Alliance, and it will provide workshops, networking opportunities, and an annual grant. All the members will pay one annual membership due, and then they'll submit proposals to make a new short film, and then we'll take most of that money and apply it to a grant for one filmmaker. Whatever proposal is accepted, that filmmaker will receive that money and be able to make their film, and all of the other members will become producers on that film.

How has the status of women filmmakers in horror evolved since Viscera first launched?
Lark: There's definitely a change on the horizon. To keep that change happening in a very positive and strong way, women really need to get the education and learn how to work in the field. There is all of this stigma floating around women, that we have to juggle so many things and choose between our lives and our families. We're also really stepping into a boys club. It's going to take both genders to get women on an equal plane in any industry. Any press that comes out about it is fantastic.

At a lot of our Viscera events, I go around and talk to people, and a lot of these people, especially men, have no idea that women still don't have equal pay and opportunity in film. They think that's the past, that it's not happening, so it's important for them to start seeking out films made by women, whether directed and/or produced.

Honeycutt: Three years ago, if you went on Bloody Disgusting, you would maybe see an article on a Jennifer Lynch movie, or one if Kathryn Bigelow was making a new horror film. You would never see the small stuff, like Jessica Cameron's Truth or Dare—you would never see that stuff a few years ago. It was not getting covered, because nobody gave a shit and people weren't using Facebook and Twitter as effectively as they are now. People are learning how to promote themselves better. Also, there are more horror websites today, so there's more competition for news stories.

What these websites do is they post anything and everything they can possibly find, so they're more open to the content as well. Now, they're like, 'Oh, Jessica Cameron, I met her three years ago at that convention, so I'll write about her film,' whereas three years ago it would have been, "Oh, Jessica Cameron, she's an actress, so why should I write about her film [Truth or Dare]?" They have to pick their content very carefully, and the people who write for them don't get paid. The way that they've done business over the years has changed, and now suddenly women directors are newsworthy because everything is newsworthy now.

Lark: In 2012, only 5% of mainstream films were made by women. Everything else was made by a man. You would think that Kathryn Bigelow winning the Oscar would have propelled women, but it's pretty sad. If you want to call us "feminists," we're total third-wave feminists. We're not like, "Men are bad!" We love men, and we totally try to involve men. We encourage men to find female producers, but only if she is qualified. Don't work with a woman just because she's a woman.

We also try to get men to seek out women for their crews too. It's generally 90% men on a film set. My theory is that bringing more women onto film sets will only benefit the experience, because women will have different perspectives than men. Those will create more dynamic stories and characters, and new themes and thoughts. That's only going to create more interesting, and most likely more profitable, films. And that will create more jobs for both men and women.

Since most horror films are written and directed by men, do you think that results in weaker female characters?
Lark: Men make amazing films, but the horror genre has a total stigma about it. It's interesting how people who don't specifically like the horror genre, they'll say things like, "Oh, I don't like horror movies, but I liked that thriller." But thrillers can be in the horror genre. The stigma is there, though, and then you get these filmmakers who think they'll make a piece-of-crap horror movie to launch their career. There's a huge disconnect there.

Making a horror film, I think, is way more difficult than making a comedy. In comedies, the set-ups are pretty standard and characters are, for the most part, just talking heads. With horror, there are so many different visual elements and editing approaches you can use to convey fear. A really good horror film is very difficult to make.

Do you see male-dominated networking as being a big issue?
Lark: There are two sides to the film industry: the independent side and the mainstream side. Women are kicking ass in the independent side. They're getting more and more opportunities, but not in the mainstream side. Only 5% of women are holding directing and producing jobs there.

I don't think men are doing it intentionally. It's more that when they think of potential filmmakers to work with, they naturally think of people who've already been giving opportunities and have already proven themselves capable of delivering a great film. It's safer to invest in someone like that. We all naturally do that. If there's a job opening at your work, you're going to recommend someone you know is competent enough to handle it, and to know that you'd need to have seen what they can do already. It's just unfortunate that not as many women filmmakers have been given the opportunities to prove themselves.

With American Mary, Jen and Sylvia Soska have put themselves in a position that women directors rarely find themselves in.
Honeycutt: Jen and Sylvia are, first of all, good filmmakers, which helps—if you'e a shitty filmmaker you're going to have a hard time no matter what. Second, they are marketing machines, where they have really learned the system and learned how to exploit the horror system, in a good way. There's nothing negative about what they are doing.

If you're part of the horror community, you will see Jen and Sylvia Soska everywhere, and that's because they work their butts off. But if you look at the larger grand scheme of Hollywood, the studios and distribution companies are not pimping Jen and Sylvia's films; any pimping you've seen, they've had to do themselves. They've had to work their asses off, so while it may seem like they're everywhere, that's only because of their own efforts. In the industry, Jen and Sylvia still have to worry about being women in a sea of men directors.

Their movies have done incredibly well, so why weren't they directing a segment in first ABCs of Death? Why were there only two women directing out of 27 filmmakers? Are there only two women directors? No. It was a bunch of guys calling other guys, and then they were like, "You know what? I once hung out with [ABCs co-director] Angela Bettis at a convention—you think we should ask her? Yeah!" I guarantee you there was no discussion where someone said, "Let's make a list of all the directors we want to ask…wait, this list is all white guys, and three Asian guys, and hardly any women." It was just, "Let's hit our bros and then fill in any gaps we have at the end with hot chicks."

Do you think it'll lead to anything outside of the independent world?
Honeycutt: That's the thing. While Jen and Sylvia are getting all of this press, is it getting them any jobs? Will this help them get their next project off the ground more easily? I don't know. I think they still have challenges in front of them that are due to the fact that they are women. Part of it, too, is they're very attractive and they're twins. While no press is bad press, one thing they're going to have face is will they be taken seriously because men find them attractive?

That's a shame. If you're a woman who's attractive, that should have nothing to do with your work, and if it does have something to do with your work, that's a problem. Then, you have to worry about, am I too attractive? Am I too ugly? Men don't have to worry about these things. You can be a fat, ugly, disgusting pig, and it doesn't matter if you're a good filmmaker—all that matters is that you're a good filmmaker. For women, and I think Jen and Sylvia are going to run into this, they are going to find that sometimes their looks will hurt them and sometimes it will help them. That's just the way that people see women in our society.

Lark: The studios are always looking for directors who have proven themselves with a couple indie movies and can handle whatever remake they have lying around. But I think it's always best to get outside financing and then sell your movie to the studio, because you need to retain ownership. Being a work-for-hire director, or what they call a "hired gun," is definitely not as good as executive producing your own movie and getting the financing yourself. That way, you own a good amount of that movie. Distribution companies can really screw you over. For me, I would feel very uncomfortable being a hired gun. Studios can change the script at a moment's notice and they will be in your face constantly, and that's the worst thing to happen to a filmmaker who's just trying to tell a good story.

Would studio executives think they can manipulate women more, thinking that they'll be happier to have been given the opportunity in the first place?
Lark: That's been going on since cinema was born. In the '20s, the banks bought out the major studios, so all of the females were basically told that they have secretary jobs or they don't have anything. Some women did preserver, though, like Ida Lupino. She started as an actress and got tired of playing these only sexual personalities. She started following the directors around a studio lot and asked questions. She created her directing career. She had this chair that she called "Mother"; the crews were basically all-male, so whenever a man would talk back to her, she would say, "Well, Mother needs you do it." She was able to displace the leadership to the chair to get the crew to do what she needed them to do. Women like her totally paved the way for every woman now.

Shannon, in addition to being a filmmaker, you're also an actress. How important is it for actress to consider making the transition into filmmaking?
Lark: Scream queens, in general, need to be making their own films. The way that careers are so set up, if a woman is just an actress, especially a scream queen, viewers can put them in boxes, and these movies are very low pay.

I started acting 10 years ago, and I quickly realized that I need to be making my own films in order to get the roles that I want. Being able to do that has gotten me in touch with other filmmakers because they've seen what I'm able to do. Starting out, I would go into auditions and they would expect me to get naked, to strip, and they'd see disrespectful comments about my body. Women have to put up with that all the time, and women should be claiming respect for themselves. If they want to get naked, then why not make their own film and get naked in it? At least that way they'll have the control and be on a set that's respectful to them.

The Advocate

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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.

The Journalist/Editor

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Inequality, particularly when it comes to the filmmaking industry, isn't a one-gender-only concern. As several of the women who've just spoken have made clear, giving more opportunities to women directors will benefit all moviegoers, regardless of what's in their pants. Fresh perspectives mean interesting and original storytelling.

As the editor-in-chief of Fangoria, the world's leading source for horror news, reviews, and interviews, veteran journalist Chris Alexander appreciates cinematic creativity more than most—hell, covering an endless stream of cookie-cutter remakes and ripoffs has to feel soul-crushing after a certain point. That's why, whenever the right project emerges, Alexander makes sure to dedicate as many Fangoria pages as possible to the genre's best female voices.

He's just not about to show that kind of love to Women in Horror Month. In the February 2012 issue of Fangoria, the Toronto resident—who's not afraid to keep things real and filter-free—railed against WiHM in his editor's letter, writing, "Listen, women should be celebrated as people in this industry and in this world, and should be feted not just in February, but all year round, which we do and will continue to February, in March, April, May, get my drift."

Today, Alexander—who recently gave the Soska Sisters' American Mary 3.5 out of 4 skulls (or stars) on Fangoria's website—has plenty more to say about the issue at hand.

Does the women filmmakers in horror topic still bother you?
Everyone always talks about the quote-unquote "horror industry," and we should be clear about that. This is my opinion, but if you observe it, there is no such thing as a "horror industry." It exists within wide borders. What you consider to be a horror film, I may not consider to be a horror film. I consider Ken Russell's The Devils a horror film, even though it's not widely considered to be one and Ken Russell himself didn't consider it as one. So there's no horror industry—there's a film industry, and women have obviously been ghettoized in the film industry and every commercial industry for the past century, for a myriad of reasons.

It's always been a boys club, right? And again, there are socio-political reasons for that, but when it comes to the horror genre specifically, I've always found it interesting because there shouldn't be any politics in horror. Horror boils down to the fear of death, and it doesn't matter what our plumbing is—we're all going to die. Death unites us all. We are all bound for the grave, and we all have the same basic needs and anxieties surrounding the ends of our lives. To me, horror shouldn't be about girls and boys. The only thing that maybe made the boys club run with it more is that they've been holding the keys to the kingdom.

The movie industry, like politics, is traditionally run by very old-at-heart men who are generally afraid of everything, and femininity has been one of greatest male anxieties. Sex is such a mystery to all men, and women being the hub of what sex is, we grow inside women. It's this fantastical, phantasmagorical mystery to us, and so because of that, we're afraid of that. We objectify women, we sexualize them, and we try to simplify them. It gives us great anxiety to really personalize them.

Because of this, men haven't let women into their boys club unless it's on their terms. You've seen very few opportunities for women in the industry, period, unless they're sexualizing themselves or packaging themselves in such a way that appeals to the guys who are holding those keys and the big wallets and running the show. I'm thankful we're seeing that turn everywhere, not just in the film industry or the horror genre. I'm Canadian, and we have a Canadian Premier now who's not only a woman but a lesbian, and she's being embraced. This is great news, this is creating role models for women, to say, "Look, if you have a brain but also have some different naughty bits, you can judged and respected the same ways that men are on that brain."

Editing Fangoria, is this issue often presented to you? Many of the discussions surrounding this issue center on the lack of publicity female directors get.
There are few things that do bother me about this issue, as the editor of Fangoria, and I'll be very frank about this. I took over Fangoria four years ago, and I love women. I love women's stories and I love horror films because I love women in them. If anything, women own horror. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, for fuck's sake, and that's one-half of the greatest iconography in horror. And scream queens, from Fay Wray all the way on up, have been the driving force of appeal in horror. It's beauty and the beast: Man is the beast and woman is the beauty, and she must be protected. The strongest images in the genre are feminine.

So to me, women are always there—they're a fabric of the genre. And, over the last four years, I've always made a point to feature women, because I think women offer a brilliant perspective into the arts, period. I've made sure that I include women in the magazine, and I don't include them because they arewomen—I include them because they're interesting artists and offer interesting perspectives. I try not to divide those lines between the sexes.

Last year, I ran this editorial basically giving the middle-finger to Women in Horror Month. I found it ludicrous, ridiculous, and counter-productive that people were out there saying, "Yay, we're girls! And we're going to take this month to remind you that we're women in horror!" Come on, an entire month? The same month that Black History Month hits? It felt so trendy and hipster. Good art is good art regardless of gender, and if I was a woman making good art I wouldn't want to be lumped in with other women making, perhaps, inferior art. I think it's ridiculous.

This editorial became very controversial, and people jumped on it, started calling me "sexist," which is about as far from the truth as you can get. My end point was, you can say that there's sexism in the film industry, there's sexism in the music industry, there's sexism in the streets, there's sexism in the domestic family set-up, but you can't say that there's sexism in horror. A great horror story is about one thing, and that's death. If we're going to make that kind of entertainment, we should concentrate on that which unites us, not that which divides us.

The majority of audiences for mainstream horror movies is female, so you'd think that producers would want more women to tell these stories, to cater to that audience.
One of my favorite filmmakers is Lars von Trier, who's often accused of being a misogynist, which is completely erroneous. He tells women stories, of course from a male point-of-view, but there's nothing wrong with that. We're the yin and yang of the planet, we all belong together. I live with a women; I've lived with a woman for 20 years, and I'm fascinated by her. I'm always trying to figure her out. She's a mystery to me, yet I know her and understand her, and I would feel very comfortable telling a woman's story because I empathize with her plight, put myself in her shoes, and see the world through her eyes.

Still, it does seem harder for women to get more notice.
It hasn't been just women being ghettoized—it's people of color and people who aren not a part of the inner circle, as well. It's not a boys club—it's just a club, period. It's about who you know, how much money you have, how many connections you have. It's about how much shit you're willing to shovel in order to get into that club, especially in an industry as expensive as the entertainment one. Since day one, it's been virtually impossible to break into, and you needed a shit-ton of luck and a lot of talent to do so.

If you look at the old videos, it was always the old bastards like Louis B. Mayer and other guys who weren't filmmakers at all—they were just dudes with cash who were setting up shop. And all they really wanted to do was get laid, if you look at it, because it was something they couldn't do on their own.

And now with the advent of technology and the video revolution, everybody in any part of the world can become a star. They can design their own myth via Facebook and social networking, and they can go out there and shoot a movie with an iPhone and cut it on their laptops and have it be seen in a week on YouTube. That's broken down so many barriers for everyone, not just women, to tell their stories, which is a double-edged sword, though, since not everybody's a storyteller or a filmmaker, but they all think they are now if they get enough "Likes" on Facebook.

But, nonetheless, there's been a smashing of the gates, so now women can go out there and not have to rely on the fat-cats with the big bank rolls. They don't have to think about that thing called "the casting couch" anymore. They can just say, "Fuck this, I'm going to do this with my own bread," and they've got as much of a shot to do it as anyone else. That's why you're seeing this shift happening, because of social networking and technology.

Are you a fan of all-women film festivals, like Viscera?
I think that's great. The Viscera Film Festival is great because it's broad-based and has an end-game. It's giving a platform to female filmmakers but it's not just throwing them into the festival because they're females. You still have to meet a certain criteria—your film still has to show some semblance of craft and have a personality.

Women in Horror Month, though, sometimes makes me laugh. You look at some of the women and it's all about how many tattoos they have, not about their work. It serves its purpose, though, in helping them feel like they're part of a community. But, really, what is it doing besides feeling like a bit of social club? And I would be fine with that if it wasn't for the fact that they have Seals of Approval, so if you want to do an event, you have to write to them and get their approval to have your event sanctified by the Women in Horror Month. That's creating parameters around things that shouldn't have parameters, and that's gender in the arts. If I'm a woman and I want to celebrate Women in Horror Month with my film, I should just be able to do it, I shouldn't have to have their seal stuck on it and jump through fire hoops in order to get that.

Putting rules on something that's so formless, as the horror genre, does bother me, but at the same time, I did learn something after that editorial's little micro-drama. It's all about role models, and it's all about who you look up to to create the template of who you want to be. I've been spoiled in my life because I've had these incredible role models. Being a male, I've never once second-guessed what I can do because everywhere I look there are these amazing men doing incredible things. I've never had to think about that. When it comes to being creative and creating an identity for yourself, we need role models, and women filmmakers don't necessarily have that yet.

Everything's moved so quickly in the last century, on every level. It's amazing to see how long people have been put in this Judeo-Christian set-up, where it's all based on gender. That's a lame-ass, one-dimensional set-up that nobody ever questioned. In the last 40 years, it's amazing to see how rapidly we've been able to extend our middle finger to that set-up.

It goes for men, too. There are so many expectations for what it means to be one of us, right down to that old expression, "Be a man!" What the fuck does that mean? I'm a human being first, and I bleed. There are a lot of expectations for us to be that. I just want the shift to keep pushing so that we're on an even keel, socially at least, since biologically we never will be. I can see that happening.

And Jen and Sylvia Soska could be the ones to help kickstart that change. Do you think they have that kind of potential?
They're tenacious and they're excellent branders. I didn't think much of their first film [Dead Hooker in a Trunk]—in fact, I found it unwatchable, but I think American Mary is a contemporary classic. There's something uniquely feminine about it, while also still being this phantasmagorical look at body horror. It's campy and bizarre. A male could have made that movie as well, but there's a certain kind of sensitivity in the movie that adds that extra dash of something I've never seen before in a movie like this. It's not cold and alien; there's a warmth about it, and it's not all that exploitative.


You can't say that there's sexism in horror. A great horror story is about one thing, and that's death. If we're going to make that kind of entertainment, we should concentrate on that which unites us, not that which divides us.


They've been fantastic at marketing themselves since day one, but now they actually have the product to back that up. In this age of Twitter and social media, everybody's a rock star, and only very few people can actually back that up with quality content, and these girls totally have it. They're way up there, high on my list of people I'll be watching in the near future. They're very, very important people in the genre now.

At the same time, yes, they are women in horror who are bucking trends, but they're also clearly playing a certain kind of game. They're not hard on the eyes. Would the Soskas be as recognized and fan-friendly if they showed up to events in a pair of track-pants and a sweatshirt? No. They're very manicured, they're playing up the sexual attraction of being twins, the male fantasy of that. They're completely manipulating a certain preconception of what men want from women.

They're creating these icons of themselves, where it's, "Women, you want to be us, and boys, you want to bang us." They're very smart about it. They're aware of the landscape and know how to work their way around it. Otherwise, they would show up to festivals and conventions wearing tracksuits and dungarees, saying, "Hey, look at our movie because of our brains," and you'd have asshole guys who'd say, "Ew, fuck that! I don't want to see what those slobs made." And then you're going to get the young girls who are looking for role models, and they want to look up to somebody's who's just stopped off at Old Navy on their way to the film premiere.

Girls want to be them, guys want to be with them, and then, on top of that, they're creating good art, so in a lot of ways they're revolutionizing the genre on that level. I'm a big KISS fan, so I've always been a big fan of, "Get the brand out first as your hook," then you spend some time with the brand and realize, "Wow, this music's actually pretty fucking good." Jen and Sylvia are operating the same way. You look past their style, and their curves, and you say, "Wow, this is actually a good movie." They've got the full package.

At the same time, the men in this industry must be aware of the fact that they're beautiful women who dress provocatively. They respond to that. At Fantastic Fest last year, most of the male bloggers and journalists were extra excited to hang out with Jen and Sylvia, more so than, say, a Brandon Cronenberg.
Let's do a little sociological experiment. Let's create two fake Facebook profiles: Let's have one of them be a gorgeous woman with everything in its right place, with great tattoos and a great look, and then let's have a guy who's 300 pounds, wearing a "Who Farted?" T-shirt, and let's see which Facebook profile gets more friends by the end of the week. Who's going to have the bigger reach? If anything, when it comes to horror, the dude has a tougher time getting noticed. It seems like every guy in horror these days is some fat, bald guy in glasses, living in a basement.

Women have a much better reach, as far as being seen and heard, because they can package themselves as they see fit. They can exploit what people want, they can take control of that and use it to maneuver the landscape. Whereas guys have a limited arsenal—we have to work a little harder to make our presence know, unless we're physically cut a certain way.

Could Jen and Sylvia's ability to do that be a source of jealousy for other up-and-coming women directors?
It depends what their end-game is. Jen and Sylvia are going the rock-n-roll route. They're rock stars of filmmaking, and the next film will be the one that determines what they'll be able to do, moving forward. Was American Maryjust a bit of luck? Were there other chefs in the kitchen? But they're not just creating a film—they're creating a brand. It's much bigger than that.

You can close your eyes and envision what they look like, from the way they pose with the one eyebrow raised. They've got a shtick. It's an act, and that's the hook. It'd be interesting if you removed that hook from American Mary, would it stand on its own? I actually think it would, totally. Are women who don't play that game hurting themselves by not doing it? Not at all. The interesting thing would be making a movie and then putting a male pseudonym on it and then reveal at the end that you're actually a woman, to see if that actually matters.

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