FANGORIA Presents: Lady Frankenstein goes “CORPSING”
One of the most recurring and persevering aspects of the horror genre is the ability to shape stories about the moral and ethical quandaries of progression into tales of “worst case scenario” terror. From as far back as Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, the idea of new sciences, discoveries and knowledge turning against those who explore and create has shown up time and time again within the fright field, including THE FLY adaptations, ALTERED STATES and JURASSIC PARK. And while the angles taken on progression within these frightening stories are extreme in theory, the questions still remain at the end of the film and are as philosophically relevant today as they were in their origination.
Indeed, similar questions on the progression of science in regards to the reach of man’s quest for life, creation and companionship are raised in writer/director Jeff Monahan’s CORPSING, now available on demand under the FANGORIA Presents banner (see here for details; to find Fango’s Comcast collection on your VOD menu, search this way: Movies > Movie Collections > Fangoria). In this case, our mad doctor is not man but a woman: Shelly, an unlicensed doctor, played wonderfully by Joanna Lowe, who takes up experiments in the vein of FRANKENSTEIN after her obsession with life after death goes too far out of control. For this amateur doctor turned successful re-animator, the questions of responsibility and consequences fall by the wayside as she becomes more involved with her evolving yet barbaric research. The role is emotionally and physically straining, and required a certain amount of dedication and trust to pull off correctly, and for that, Monahan turned to an actress he had trusted previously.
“I met Jeff Monahan when I was cast in a public reading of one of his other thriller screenplays, JOYRIDE,” recalls Lowe. “Apparently, he really liked my performance that night, so we started talking and exchanging scripts since I’m a writer as well. We became fast friends as well as colleagues, and then one day, he sent me the CORPSING script and offered me the part of Shelly, contract and all. I was beyond thrilled to say the least.”
With a role as complicated and morally subversive as Shelly, Lowe was never hesitant to join the film. A genre buff herself, Lowe saw the potential within the emotionally defined story of CORPSING and capitalized on the opportunity to play both scary and smart.
“As far as being a horror fan, I really grew up reading horror, most notably and consistently Stephen King,” the actress says. “He continued to be one of my mainstays over the years and the real reason is because, scary or not, he’s an excellent storyteller. While I like horror movies, I’m not a fan of the torture-gore entries that are popular now. When it comes to horror movies, I enjoy a good scare, and I love a good story. To me, there’s no point in watching someone get diced to pieces if you’re not invested in the characters, the whys, the hows and their responses in extraordinary circumstances.”
Even in the name of Lowe’s character, the story of FRANKENSTEIN is a major influence upon the film, which also draws inspiration from many other genres, including zombie movies and even Gothic romance. However, the genre-bending of CORPSING’s main star and the crafting of the tale to accommodate modern sciences and routines cause the film to stand out amongst the various takes on Mary Shelley’s classic frightener.
“Both the gender switch and the modern setting in CORPSING gave the original FRANKENSTEIN more of a generous nod or made it more of an ‘inspired-by’ story rather than a remake, allowing CORPSING to have its own identity,” says Lowe. “Another benefit of the modern setting is that it’s easier for audiences to put themselves in the ‘what-if’ scenarios by asking themselves the morally compromising questions and experiencing the real shock of what comes to light as the story unfolds in CORPSING.
“The only way I could see CORPSING alienating people is if genre fans come in looking for the traditional horror flick,” Lowe continues. “CORPSING is genre-crossing and hard to categorize: Gothic, sci-fi, drama, romance even comedic and horror. Its complexities and unique style are what drew me to [the film], but may alienate fans looking for the typical horror film.”
Indeed, CORPSING is definitely not an easily categorized scare flick, often subverting audience expectations and crossing into areas of moral and ethical indiscretion that may not sit well with casual audiences. Nevertheless, Lowe saw these elements as not an obstacle but rather experiments in dread, and was attractive to her as a performer who considered these factors as essential to the gripping story.
“I’m definitely attracted to subversive, boundary-questioning, non-traditional projects,” she says. “It’s actually one of the major goals I have with my theater company [Cup-A-Jo Productions]; I’m one who believes that if you don’t have anything new to say or explore, then there’s really no point. As far as horror fans [are concerned], I’m not sure I knew they could be alienated or shocked. In all seriousness, though, the violence won’t shock, but the emotional violence and socio/moral boundaries we cross in this film could shock some. The ‘they’re not really going to… Oh! They did?!’ factor, whatever that’s called.”
Despite the film’s more wicked qualities, CORPSING is far from an indulgence into shock-and-awe filmmaking; in fact, far from it. CORPSING embraces its romantic side, populating its world with characters that do more than merely exist, but move along with these horrific experiments, for better or worse.
“I’m a firm believer in character development,” Lowe says. “Not only is it virtually essential in telling a good tale, but more than anything, I find people to be the most interesting and frightening things in the universe, and that includes the supernatural to natural disasters and everything in-between. People, the depths and darkness of the human heart, fascinate and terrify me, and what made this character interesting and valuable to me was the process of her degradation: to see her balancing at the top of that morally slippery slope and then watch her choose to plummet. Jeff and I spent a lot of time exploring past relationships, thought processes, and the emotions and motivations behind Shelly’s choices because we wanted her to be both frightening and relatable.”
And even though the role may have been conceptually invigorating, the performance was still born out of physical and emotional hardships, as Lowe’s choices and her character’s arc had put her in a compromising position, literally.
“Shelly is a physical role for obvious reasons, but being the masochistic actor that I am, I made it more so,” says Lowe. “As soon I sat in Shelly’s ‘wheelchair,’ I decided I would be playing her with a twisted body when in the chair. That was my choice as an actor, and continued to be my choice even with the inevitable aches and the ensuing back spasms that took over at the end of an eternal day of filming. And I wasn’t prepared for four hours-a-day of full-body double-layer makeup application [by Greg Lightner] that, when dried, felt like sharp cracking skin all over my body and need constant maintenance and reapplication. But I would do it again in a heartbeat. The process was necessary for the result, so I did it, simple as that. I adore what I do, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to do what I love.
“There’s one scene in particular that really caught us all off-guard emotionally,” adds Lowe, who recently founded Claochlu Studios with Monahan. “We were filming one scene between [colleague] Peter and Shelly, and I found myself in tears during the take. The director of photography [Jen Schneider] immediately keyed in on this and said, ‘This is important. This is really the only time we see her as vulnerable.’ I’m thankful we were all open and willing to go for the ride, both emotionally and physically. Up until I did CORPSING, I had never been more exhausted, and simultaneously invigorated, in all of my artistic life. But I wouldn’t take it back for the world. Like I said, when it comes to my art, I tend to be a bit masochistic.”
See FANGORIA #326, on sale now, for more CORPSING coverage and stop back here in a few days for news of FANGORIA Presents latest exciting acquisition!