For the last eight years, the month of February has been celebrated as Women in Horror Month by the horror community.
Born from a manifesto written by WiHM founder Hannah Neurotica nearly a decade ago, Women in Horror Month shines a spotlight on all of the genius minds and twisted storytellers that the genre has to offer. Countless film festivals, podcasts, blogs and social media events are enjoyed around the world during this four-week celebration.
While a month dedicated to these ladies of terror is fantastic, it is this writer’s humble opinion that the creators who keep our beloved horror genre so fresh and creepy deserve to be shown the love all year around. This is why this massive Women in Horror piece is coming at you on March 25, nearly month after the WiH festivities have Until the calendar year rolls over, February has already begun to slip from most of our consciousness. But the ladies who do so much to inspire, engage and scare shouldn’t.
As a staunch proponent of independent horror, especially the amazing ladies who keep the tension tight and the shivers chilled (I was honored to be an assistant to Ms. Neurotica during the 2012 Women in Horror Month), I reached out to a number of artists and conducted a roundtable discussion on the current state of the horror landscape as well as what these ladies are currently working on and what advice they’d offer the next generation of women in horror.
What are you currently working on/what are some future projects you are especially excited about?
Reyna Gillette (owner of Last Doorway Productions, horror hostess, writer)
“Right now I am in editing on two feature films I shot a year ago. Doll Murder Spree will be out this year. It is a campy grindhouse slasher film and the other film is called Interview, a psychological thriller. I am so excited to be releasing these films and I am working on three scripts at the moment but cannot talk too much about them yet. Also I have released a children’s book series called Monsters. I have four books out right now through Black Bed Sheet Books and I am excited that more will be coming out soon. You can find them on Amazon. I will also be releasing my first novel through BBSB this year and I’ll be announcing that soon.”
Karen Lam (filmmaker, writer)
“I’m currently in the writing room for a new SyFy series that I can’t say much about yet,
but I’m excited to get my first full TV script. I finished my first novel this December for National Novel Writing Month and I have so many plans for this Fall: shoot a new feature film, maybe a new short film and maybe even writing my first theatre play. Getting to tell stories in new creative formats is what keeps me going.”
Christy Lou Sturman (horror doll maker)
“I have two big projects in the works right now. One is a doll that blends a lot of deep fears that are intrinsic to humans – spiders, holes in flesh and women with uncertain intentions. I’ve actually done a lot of research in fear and terror for this creation. I’m also going to give a Japanese twist, since that is my personal favorite horror genre. But I have also recently undertaken a lifetime goal, which was to make life-size versions of my dolls, meaning costumes. I have done a few in the last year but I just began a plague doctor character, that will be for me, I’ve had it in my head for years – more horror fantasy than historical accuracy. I am very excited about this in particular.”
Tonjia Atomic (filmmaker, writer, blogger)
“Currently I am working on post production for Manos Returns, the sequel to Manos: The Hands of Fate. It takes place now, fifty years after the original film. A new set of travelers stumble upon the lodge. Debbie and Maggie have been trapped there all this time with The Master, Torgo, and the Wives. Our film has a bit of comedy but it is still dark and creepy like the original film. Jackey Neyman Jones, Tom Neyman, and Diane Mahree Adelson all reprise their original roles. Steven Shields plays Torgo and Bryan Jennings plays the Sheriff, originally played by his father William Bryan Jennings.
I’m also in pre-production for a feature slasher film called Raw Meat which stars the captivating Bill Oberst Jr. as a killer with no skin. We’ve been working on that one for some time now. I’ve had to stop production twice due to the deaths of my parents. I’m finally in a place where I can jump back into this project. The great thing is that now I’ve got the cast and crew of Manos Returns involved in Raw Meat and it’ll be a better film.”
Gwendolyn Kiste (author, blogger)
“My debut collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, is due out from JournalStone in April. That’s my biggest project right now, as we’ve just finished the edits and finalized the cover art. It features fourteen stories, five of which are brand-new to the collection. This is my very first standalone project, so I’m definitely excited about having a book with my name on it!
I’ve also recently finished my first horror novel, Festival of the Lost Girls, and I’m currently at work on several novellas and short stories. So many words to write, so little time!”
Colleen Wanglund (author, blogger)
“I am currently working on a sequel to my first novella Fukushuu: Damaged Woman of Violence, as well as two short stories for anthology invites. One is an erotic horror story and one is an extreme horror story. I’m also working on building up my personal blog, as well as catching up on posts for some of the websites I write for.”
With each passing year, the Women in Horror community grows considerably. It’s truly awesome to see. Why do you feel this amazing community is so committed to celebrating the ladies that make the genre great when so many other genres and artistic mediums seem to be lagging behind in their appreciation for the fairer sex?
Christine Verstraete (author and journalist)
” Horror itself is often the overlooked and even derided “stepchild” of literature, I think, so it makes sense that the field would be more open to women in that aspect. But also when the milestones of horror include classics written by women (Frankenstein, Mary Shelley; The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson; Interview with a Vampire, Anne Rice), how else could the field be but welcoming and celebratory?
Amy Humphries (Media Marketing Director and Co-Editor at Tom Holland’s Terror Time)
“Honest answer – I don’t think the other genres are, or have been lagging. I think it’s been more of a hurdle for the general pop to get past the fact females can be artistically gifted in their craft that contributes to a genre that is visually shocking, courageous enough to tackle subject matters most can’t or won’t in addition to cooking, cleaning and being bad ass moms. I’d personally like to see this addressed every month in the year versus just one.
And one amazing fact – women are significantly growing as a fan base in horror too. Females make up over half of Tom Holland’s Terror Time’s followers on social media.”
Lori Bowen (filmmaker)
“Who doesn’t like an ass-kicking lady in horror?! Seriously, though, this is an interesting question, but I’d like to add a bit of perspective and mine is film-based. I hope an author or an artist out there has numbers they can refer to!
Thankfully, there are great strides being taken, so don’t get me wrong, but it’s still a struggle. Think of it like this: according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women comprised only 17% of the directors, writers, producers and executive producers, editors, and cinematographers on the top 250 domestic films in 2016, which is down two percent from 2015, and a further breakdown of the numbers is quite sobering…
And indie film? According to a study by the same author as the Celluloid Report, the top 23 film festivals in the US of A screened an average of 5 narrative features directed by a woman as opposed to the average of 18 narrative features directed by a man.
These numbers overall are dismal and when we consider that horror is relatively niche, indie horror even more so, and that quite literally thousands of films of all kinds are made around the world every year, we can see that there’s still a long way to go.
Keep fighting the good fight! It’s not just talking about women in horror, or women in film, that helps, it’s also supporting us, hiring us, and being willing to lay out those hard-earned dollars to watch films and shows made by women throughout the year. This falls in line with my philosophy that if you want to find your new favorite director (otherwise known as “the next” so-and-so), go to film festivals and conventions that have film screenings!”
Nez Wilburn (owner, Darkspectre Custom Couture)
“I think horror truly is art at its most visceral, base level. Horror is where we go to our dark side and stay for a while…and indulge it. It’s an outlet for what scares us in real life and there seems to be no better place for letting our emotional, gut reactions to the world we live in real life out to play. I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but we’re living in some pretty scary times. Some women hold on to that and get depressed, but others turn that to their work and BOY do they. I’m seeing women no longer sit back and say “That’s too much.”, but instead go whole hog with an idea. Maybe it’s a “go out with a bang and not with a whimper” attitude, I don’t know, but it just seems to me that more and more want their stories told and they’re not holding back at all. I will never say that men are incapable of channeling their inner fear into really great storytelling – I’m just saying that over the past few recent years, it seems like opportunities to get your story out and to the forefront are something that the WiH are grabbing and truly running with. I see fan bases getting really excited when they see that the Twisted Twins are working on something. I see more and more female directors under the IFC Midnight label (one of my favorites) and Blumhouse and I get excited! The world is a really scary place right now. The inspiration is there, it just needs the right people to snatch it up and run with it. From the snippets I see here and there in social networking I think 2017-2018 is going to be a big year for women stepping up their game on ALL levels.”
Miki Hickel (artist, Women in Horror Month assistant, blogger)
“What I hear from people most often is that when they found out about WiHM they were happy to know that they weren’t weird for being a girl/woman who likes horror. There is something comforting about knowing there are people who share your interests, and when those interests are seen by some as different or strange, that becomes even more important. I mean…who wants to feel like they’re the very first LARPer?
The horror genre does seem like it would be an unlikely place for women to thrive and find a strong and supportive community. Let me tell you…we have had our fair share of push back. WiHM came about even before gamergate happened. So, there were death threats, rape threats, the usual trolling from people who don’t think there should be any celebration focusing exclusively on the contributions of women in any genre. But I honestly think horror fans are both more open to new ideas, and less aggressive. Maybe it has something to do with watching or creating horror being a kind of release? Whatever it is, other genres seem to have more defined boundaries when it comes to gender roles. The horror genre lets women be sweet, angry, sexy, terrifying, hideous, and heroic. Sometimes all in the same story.”
Maude Michaud (filmmaker, writer)
“I feel like there’s a real spirit of sisterhood in the community, maybe because we can all relate to each other’s experiences and struggles. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve always felt welcomed with open arms and I’ve developed some genuine friendships thanks to this community. It just feels natural to support and celebrate each another. We can accomplish so much more if we help each other instead of competing against one another.”
Lori R. Lopez (author, blogger)
“I do see both women and men promoting this cause. Every year I feel the support is increasing, with the amount of males involved rising. Bloggers and Facebook Pages and websites are getting behind the effort. You’ve been spotlighting women in Horror awhile, I know. This year, I actually received requests or volunteered to take part in more Women In Horror promotions by men than by women! I think that’s remarkable. We notice, guys! We appreciate it.
I’m encouraged at what I’m seeing in the Horror Community. There is still, however, a steep hill to climb. Speaking as an author, outside of February, you hear far more about the men who write Horror. And readers see more books by men who write Horror, because those books are often the most popular. I know males in the genre who struggle for visibility the same as females. And females on the path to becoming popular. The chances of them getting as well-known as Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice might be slim, yet they work as hard as any male and they have as much ability. I’m confident that perspectives have begun to shift. And yet, Women In Horror Month needs to be taken up by the major booksellers, by the media, by Hollywood, New York . . . not just one community.
Unfortunately, when women are not respected by leaders who are supposed to set examples, it doesn’t encourage attitudes to change for the better. All women in every occupation, every walk of life will suffer, and have. Today is a point in history when a movement has been sparked over misogyny. We’re going to put up a fight against being marginalized and treated intolerably. The glass ceiling will be shattered. Prejudice against women has gone on too long.
It’s true what they say, that horror writers are among the nicest people. There is a generous spirit of sharing and kindness. They seem to flock together. It’s wondrous, and inspiring. Women In Horror Month is special. We should be proud of it. I take it seriously and do my best to pitch in. I believe that us ladies, with support from readers and male counterparts, can lead the way toward greater equality.
With literature, it isn’t just Horror. I’ve heard there is bias aimed at women who write Science Fiction. Perhaps Fantasy and other genres. I’ve written novels I consider Fantasy. I use elements of Sci-Fi in stories and books as well. I’m just not in touch with a specific fellowship like I am with Horror, aside from the Indie Community, which is terrific. Lots of good folks!
If you could collaborate with any one woman in horror, past or present, who would it be and why?
Dayna Noffke (filmmaker, writer)
“Ugh. Just one? I’d be honored to work with any number of the women who are currently working. If I could work with, and learn from, anyone I’d probably choose Mary Harron. She went all-in on American Psycho and it’s one of my all time favorite horror films. I love her no-holds-barred approach in that film and her consistent style and vision. Followed by a documentary on Bettie Page? Wow. And how about getting Mary Shelley to write a script for me?”
Barb Breese (blogger, podcaster)
“Cassandra Peterson, hands down. My father and I would always watch ” Elvira’s Movie Macabre” together every weekend when I was a kid. She was my dad’s favorite, and I always looked forward to our movie dates. We’d have conversations and laughs along with Elvira during the movie, and then we’d talk horror for hours with each other after the
movie was over. I’d like to at least meet Cassandra to thank her for the memories that she helped to create.”
“Absolutely no contest, it would be Shirley Jackson. Her characters and prose have touched me in a way nobody else ever has. When I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle for the first time, it truly felt like a part of me that was hidden had been revealed. Thanks to that book, I feel like I know and understand myself better.
However, if I were to have a chance to work with her, I have this feeling that since neither of us is known for our people skills, we might meet and at first just stare somewhat strangely at each other. Despite our awkward start, though, one of us would probably think to make a pot of tea to calm the mood, and then we’d get to work.”
“My end of things is in the wardrobe department now, although I’d love to take over styling in general for some really creepy deep dark baroque blood sucker film. Or….series. Anne Rice (right) is plotting to bring her Vampires to the small screen and I would love some involvement in that. With my heart always coming back to the vampire genre and my education being predominantly in historical costuming, that would be my happy place, for sure. My understanding is she’s wanting to make vampires what they truly were always meant to be once again and more of a combination of Game of Thrones and 30 Days of Night. I’m totally down with that! Let’s get beautiful and bloody and tell those stories of the oldest creatures to walk among us!”
“I’d love to work with Nadine L’Esperance (left). She’s been making some really sick horror shorts. We also get along really well and have a similar sense of humor. As far as friends making films, I really think she’s the one doing the nastiest stuff out there. Part of me wants to see what kind of twisted gross and disturbing stuff we’d come up with.”
“I really love the work of the Soska Sisters (right). I’m not sure they would ever need some creepy dolls or monster costumes in their work, but it would be a dream to be part of something they work on.”
“I’ve been working creatively with Hannah Neurotica for over a decade. I will always jump at the chance to create something new with her. She is an idea machine, and when she starts talking about something I can immediately see it in my head and know how to make it happen. We’ve started and given up on more projects than I think anyone would
Working with Ashlee Blackwell (left) of Graveyard Shift Sisters (and WiHM) is something I’d like to do more. The work she does to get more exposure for women of color in the horror genre is always thoughtful and well done. Plus, we have a platform with WiHM that we can use to promote all kinds of equality. We should use it.
I also think it would be really fun to do a Tristan Risk coloring book. I’ve never met her, but her pictures and performances are all so different that it would be cool to draw them all.”
“I would love to collaborate on a project with Debbie Rochon (right). She’s amazing and I would love to do something with her.”
“I would love to collaborate with Ellen Datlow (below), editor extraordinaire. She has impeccable taste in genre literature so the chance to work with her as an editor on any of my fiction pieces would be a dream come true.”
What advice would you offer a young lady with horror-creating aspirations?
“Keep at it. Read a lot. Don’t be afraid to be “too gory”, as one reader described my book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter. Write as your heart leads you.”
“Perseverance, integrity and humility. Have a teachable spirit and know the audiences opinion doesn’t define you.”
“The advice I would give any aspiring horror filmmaker, male or female, is to really find the horror within: meaning, use your own experiences to create the horror you want to see. Don’t get caught up emulating what you think is working in the market or what anyone else is doing. For females specifically, I would say don’t be afraid to step into the director’s chair. Horror audiences are the most supportive people I’ve ever met. There’s no better environment to work in!”
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. If you can think it or dream it, you CAN DO IT. Never take no for an answer. Don’t be afraid to be spooky. Take being called weird as a compliment. Follow your bloody bliss!”
“This business is hard and success is never guaranteed, but if it’s what you love and it makes you happy, just keep creating! Life is too short to not follow your dreams and we’re lucky to live in a wonderful age where means of production are easily accessible and it is easier to get your work seen, thanks to the multiple online platforms out there.”
“Be brave and ignore the people who think there is something wrong with you. Be strong and confident because there are many fine talented ladies presently writing, creating, producing, performing Horror – and a large number of incredible females before them who had to endure far worse criticism and doubts!”
“Keep going. People of all stripes and in all industries can be relentlessly cruel, but if you have stories to tell, tell them. Get them out into the world. Trust me, the world needs your voice, perhaps now more than ever.”
“I would tell anyone with aspirations for creating horror to just do it. Write what you want to write, what makes you happy. Also, read. It surprises me when someone who wants to be a writer says they don’t read much. Read a mix of authors and sub-genres but don’t try to mimic someone else’s voice. Read and write. You should always be working on your craft. And don’t get discouraged. Success doesn’t happen overnight. Use your unique voice and create your stories. I will admit that I don’t always follow my own advice. Sometimes I’ll go weeks without writing a single word. But I’m always reading something, usually two or three books at once, and I always will at least write down any ideas I have somewhere. I keep a notebook just for jotting down and expanding on ideas and I use my phone for that, as well.”
“Learn about horror. Read horror literature. Watch horror films. Check out horror-inspired art and music. Don’t just go with the obvious ones either. Of course, you should know Frankenstein and The Exorcist and The Shining, all the original and modern classics, but you should delve deeper into the genre. I’ve gotten some of my best inspiration from somewhat more obscure horror like Daughters of Darkness, The Sentinel, and Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Also, don’t fear the rejection. The writing industry is a tough business, and rejection will follow you for your entire career, but it’s part of the process, so don’t let it deter you. Just keep going, keep honing your craft, and keep producing the best work you can possibly write. The rest will fall into place.”
“Just do you and don’t stop making things. There is nothing wrong with making DIY backyard films. There’s also nothing wrong with aiming for higher-budget projects. Just keep making films. That’s how you learn. I’m not ashamed of my DIY films but I’m happy to be moving into a different arena over the past few years and working toward making a feature. This industry is so hard. I haven’t seen a person yet who doesn’t get discouraged once in a while, who doesn’t think about giving up. But you won’t ever hear about the people who give in to that urge. The ones you hear about are the people who keep making things and keep knocking on doors. Make things at whatever level you are able. Keep improving and learning and kicking your own ass. I may not have made my feature yet but I know that it’s going to happen, only because I won’t stop until it does. Perhaps even more importantly, be good to people! Help other filmmakers, support them, watch their work! Thank every single person who helps you get your films made or promotes you. The only way that I have gotten anything made (especially DIY films) is because other people gifted me their time and talents. I love being on set and seeing what other people are working on. Let’s keep lifting each other up. It elevates us all.”
Dayna Noffke is also the proud parent of an incredibly talented young lady who is going to be leading the charge for the next generation of Women in Horror:
“Viva T. aka The Littlest Monster Maker is my 8-year-old daughter. She is a budding special FX artist and has starred in a few of my films. Viva loves monsters – particularly Godzilla and Creature from the Black Lagoon. She’s slowly getting into the scarier stuff. Right now she is obsessed with The Ring, Drag Me to Hell and The Shining. She started working with Shane Morton at Silver Scream FX shop here in town when she was about five. She’s always been artistic but i’m not really sure what really got her started. She has just dug in! She does sculpture, latex, blood and wounds. She loves gore! She has done panels at horror cons and she is about to start working on the second issue of her FX zine, Creepy Kids. She recently met Tom Savini and showed off her portfolio, which was a big thrill for her! You can check out her work on Instagram (@littlestmonstermaker).”
I would like to sincerely thank each and every wonderful lady who took the time out to be a part of this massive Q&A. These are just a few of the incredible talents we have in the horror community and I am personally honored to call these ladies friends, mentors and inspiration.